Amazon’s ‘Hunters’ and the failure of trying too hard

Meyer and Logan (Amazon Prime)

Amazon Prime’s new streaming exclusive, Hunters, seems like a show that should really fit within the modern media landscape. A diverse cast of Nazi hunters, led by a Holocaust survivor, hunt down ex-Nazi’s leaders who were given refuge in the United States post-World War II.

It is very clear who Amazon was aiming for their audience to be for this show. Relatively progressive, younger, Americans. A show perfect for a moment where anti-fascist action rises across the country, while someone like Bernie Sanders has emerged as one of the most popular politicians in the world. Amazon was clearly trying to take advantage of an era of social justice where the historical scars of racism and antisemitism are returning to the forefront of our collective consciousness.

Throughout the run of the opening season, we see that racism and sexism are clearly alive in 1980’s America. Agent Morris (Jerrika Hinton) is an FBI agent who is piecing together the story of how the Nazi’s arrived in America. Throughout the show, she is often seen as lesser than her colleagues and discriminated against at work. Morris is also a lesbian, and on the other side has to deal with hiding her relationship in a world that is also very much homophobic. The show perfectly shows the discrimination against Morris and they feel like a part of the natural world. It does not seem overdone, it feels like real, casual, normalized racism.

Roxy (Tiffany Boone) is another black woman on the show. She is a part of the hunters who, at one point in the show, becomes separated from the rest of the group. Late in the season, the writers attempt to give her a powerful moment with her daughter where she tells her that as a “Black woman in America, she has to be a super-hero.”

The racism we see with Morris is racism we can feel and recognize. The writers do a great job showing it to us, and making us feel for her plight. While Roxy certainly has experienced both racism and sexism as a Black woman in the 1980’s, we do not really see it. Her powerful moment just feels cheap and almost made me roll my eyes.

A lot of moments in this show are clearly trying to either build tension or make us feel a wave of emotion, but instead, just come off as corny. There is a moment where it appears Sister Harriet (Kate Mulvany) has betrayed her fellow hunters, but there is no way that even for a second any viewer actually believes it. Despite that, her big betrayal drags for multiple episodes and just feels dumb.

There is a big twist at the end of the show (which I will not spoil) that feels cheap as well. It was not really telegraphed well, but still almost felt obvious as this show tried so hard to repeatedly subvert expectations that you can almost guess when it is going to happen.

Some of the powerful moments did hit, though. The show will often flashback to memories of the characters from their time in Auschwitz in devastating scenes. We see Nazi’s psychologically torture their victims in a horrifying chess game where the pieces are human beings that are forced to kill each other. They use a singing competition broadcasted throughout the camp as an excuse to murder a group of victims.

The most powerful scene in the entire show is a moment where a group of Jewish prisoners at the camp who are forced to play for the Nazi’s pull off a small moment of rebellion. They begin to play Hava Nagila, the well known Jewish celebration song, to the chagrin of the Nazi soldier watching over them. He one by one kills the composer and every single musician. The other prisoners, waling by in a near-bye path, all come together to loudly hum the song in the face of their oppressors as they are marched along.

This moment works so well for two reasons. First, it is shown, not just told. We see, and are well aware, of the atrocities committed against Jewish people and Auschwitz, so this moment truly resonates with us. We feel for their plight, and root for them as they die for a single moment of bliss and rebellion while stuck in the worst situation humans have ever known.

Meanwhile, Logan (Jonah Heidelbaum), our main character, seems to have confusing motives. One on hand, he wants revenge for his murdered grandmother. On the other, he seems to pine for sympathy for the Nazi’s he is hunting. He is frustratingly stupid early on in the season, and then just kind of bumbles along for the ride until late on where he does a total 180.

Some late plot points do not make sense either. One of the hunters, Murray (Saul Rubinek), is killed in an explosion on the subway that he easily could have escaped. Logan manages to shepard all innocent bystanders away from the explosion, and Murray could have easily just joined them. Instead he stays behind to try and defuse the bomb, and ends up killing himself in the process.

The show will often cut away to small skits that have absolutely nothing to do with the story at all. At one point, we are watching a game show where the contestants run through as many antisemitic tropes as possible, before the host stares down the viewer and asks how much of an antisemite they are. While I understand the point they were attempting to make, there are much better ways to show how casually antisemitism is often seen in our world.

Hunters decided to throw out any form of subtlety in its storytelling, and seemed to force plot points where they did not belong. It failed because of it. What could have been a great, generation-defining, show, instead fell flat.

Freelance writer. Bylines in American Magazine, SB Nation and Mondoweiss. Culture and Sports.

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