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Lehitraot! 'Hunters' creator David Weil unpacks Nazi-hunting secrets of second and final season
We dive into the alternate timeline of the hit Prime Video series with the mastermind behind the hunt for Hitler.
If you had asked David Weil how many seasons of Hunters he hoped to make when it first premiered in early 2020, the series creator, showrunner, and executive producer might have alluded to a 5-6 season plan for his ragtag crew of Nazi-hunting vigilantes in 1970s New York. Drawing on a rich tradition of Nazi-hunting fiction (Inglorious Basterds, The Odessa File, The Boys from Brazil, and Marathon Man to name a few), the show would have had no trouble sustaining itself for multiple outings.
Three years and one pandemic later, however, the cathartic alternate history project from Amazon Studios and executive producer Jordan Peele has come to a definitive end after its second season (now streaming on Prime Video). Recently sitting down with SYFY WIRE over Zoom, Weil explains that it only felt right to end the story following the big Season 1 reveal that Adolf Hitler (played in the latest batch of episodes by Udo Kier) was still alive and well in South America.
***WARNING! This article contains major plot spoilers for all of Season 2!***
"Hitler became the prize. He became the target in Season 2," the creator tells us. "And in writing Season 2, especially writing the ending — which I almost wrote toward the beginning of the process — it felt like such a perfect conclusion to the series. It felt like to bring it past that end would just be extending story to extend story. Of course, there are other stories that we can tell and potentially we will in different forms and fashions. But I didn't want Hunters to overstay its welcome and I felt like I did what I set out to do with this ending and really crystallize the thesis of the show in doing so."
Logan Lerman, who plays the role of Hunters head honcho Jonah Heidelbaum, admits that he was only ever made aware of the two-season blueprint. "Before we did Season 1, [David] was like, ‘I'm only gonna tell you [where] it's going and this is where I think season 3 or 4 could go,’ but it was really 1 and 2," the actor remembers. "Those were set and I was so excited. To be honest with you, part of me was just wanting to get through Season 1 to get to Season 2 because I liked the character more after the setup."
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Had you spoken to Weil in those fanciful days before COVID-19 changed our lives forever, he wouldn't have described Hunters as "alternate history," instead opting for the term "secret history." Season 2 changes all that in its final episode, which places Hitler on trial before an international tribunal for the innumerable crimes the German dictator committed during World War II and the Holocaust.
"We've come out in the open. There's no more secrets or shadows," Weil declares. "You're absolutely right, it is certainly alternate history this season. And the reason for it is to try and create — even though it's fictional — a sense of catharsis. Where, in reality, Adolf Hitler ended his own life on his terms, in a sense, and was never brought to justice. In our show, we actually do bring him justice and just that sense of fictional wish fulfillment, I hope, will be cathartic to viewers."
The series finale foregoes the guns-a-blazin' action and violence of previous episodes for a powerful cross-examination of evil itself. A cognitive dissonance between the two Jewish lawyers in charge of the proceedings (one tasked with representing the millions slaughtered in the Holocaust and one given the nigh-impossible job of serving as Hitler's personal counsel) raises important questions about whether the most detestable members of our species — the cold-blooded killers, the hate crime-inciting bigots, the warmongering authoritarians — deserve access to the so-called inalienable human rights they never once extended to their victims.
"Revenge is one thing, but is justice even more difficult and therefore, more impressive? Is it more right? Is it more moral? What is the thesis of the show?" Weil muses. "And who is Jonah, really, in his heart of hearts? Is he his grandmother's grandson or is he, in some twisted way, the offspring of Meyer Offerman?"
He continues: "The trial was very important, especially in the world today, in our culture and in our society, where all these anti-Semitic myths and lies are spewed on the daily — where Holocaust denial is at an all time high. And if not that, people try to diminish what actually happened during the Holocaust. I wanted to air all those things and then shoot them and knock them down in this trial. Even some of the language that Hitler uses has parallels to the language that we hear today on social media or elsewhere."
In a lot of ways, Season 2 represents the complete inverse of its predecessor. Where the first 10 episodes revolve around a secret organization of Nazi war criminals growing in strength as they attempt to establish a Fourth Reich in the United States, the latter eight focus on how our Hebraic heroes get the last laugh. As Weil explains, "Season 1 is more focused on the question of revenge," while "Season 2 ultimately becomes about justice."
The opening sequence of the final season — in which Holocaust survivor Chava Apfelbaum (Jennifer Jason Leigh) gouges out the eyes of an Austrian candy shop owner whose family stole their successful confection business from Jews during the war and then pretended like it didn't happen — recalls the introduction of Season 1 where Biff Simpson (Dylan Baker) murders his wife and children where a Holocaust survivor recognizes him at a backyard barbecue. While both scenes start off innocent before taking a turn for the sinister, the Season 2 curtain-raiser signals a major shift in the power dynamic between the Hunters and the Hunted.
"What was really satisfying in Season 2, [was] to give a preview of what's to come in the season; to allow this very mysterious character of Chava exact this very righteous violence and revenge against this candy shop owner in Austria," Weil explains.
But even with Hitler rightfully put away for the rest of his miserable days by the end of Episode 8, it seems that Jonah cannot escape the deeply-ingrained instinct that compels him to bring every single Nazi war criminal to justice. The very last moment of the entire series makes that abundantly clear when Jonah, trying to enjoy a Miami-based honeymoon with Clara (Emily Rudd), snaps back into a state of high suspicion after hearing a stranger speak German at a nearby table.
"As much as he tries to get out of this life and try to turn a blind eye, I think that weight of legacy and responsibility and birthright weighs on him heavily," Weil says. "I don't think that this is a character who can hang up the cape. I think this is an individual who will want to seek justice and vengeance for the rest of his life."
"I think it's just a symbolic thing," Lerman continues. "It's kind of this idea that you can move on and you can say it's over with one person, but an idea doesn't just die with one person. I think it was leaving room to continue exploring Jonah and what can happen going moving forward. I think it can be really interesting. There's a lot of stuff to explore, but for Jonah's particular journey that was set up, it ended in Season 2."
That takeaway on the immortality of humanity's inability to let go of its most wicked predictions is further underscored by Travis Leich (Greg Austin), the new generation sycophant of the Third Reich, who pulls a mysterious disappearing act when he fails to whisk Adolf off to safety once the former Führer finds himself sentenced to life in prison by the aforementioned tribunal. Travis is still out there, subscribing to and most likely proselytizing the toxic ideologies of Nazism.
"There were thoughts about projecting him into a modern day context and seeing him grown-up, essentially. That was tossed around at the end of the season, but ultimately, it was decided that he just disappears," Austin reveals. "I think Travis is like this nameless evil, almost. This evil behind everything else that just continues to exist."
All eight episodes of the second and final season of Hunters are now streaming on Prime Video.
Jonesing for another thriller inspired by true events? A Friend of the Family is now streaming on Peacock. If you're seeking more Jordan Peele, his hit film NOPE is streaming now on Peacock, and his Twilight Zone revival airs Wednesdays on SYFY.