This article deals with the ending of the first season of Hunters. Spoilers follow.
Just when it looked like Jonah and the rest of his Nazi-hunting gang had saved the day — the day being the future of a world in which Nazis were about to launch a biological weapon that would decimate the human population — Hunters offered a stark reminder that heroism is never that simple, and that unlike what usually happens in the comic books the show references, good guys hardly ever win.
In the 10th and final episode of Hunters’ first season, after our group of Nazi-hunting antiheroes put a stop to a cataclysmic disaster which would have wiped out millions of Americans, the show hit us with two very big twists. One involves a betrayal, possibly two, within their own ranks, and the other cements the identity and life-or-death status of the series’ big villain.
Suddenly, despite our heroes prevailing, it seems they’re now worse off than when they began. But Hunters’ twists are much more than storytelling devices that set up the foundation for a second season. They reinforce the mordant, core idea of the series: Evil isn’t eradicated easily, and putting your trust in the hands of the “good guys” is a futile prospect.
Twist No. 1: Meyer Offerman isn’t who he says he is
Throughout the entire series, Meyer Offerman, played by Al Pacino, has been Jonah’s mentor, long-lost grandfather, and the ringleader of the hunters, the Nazi-hunting team at the center of the series. It would seem that he’s the hero, taking out Nazis who have slipped through America’s security cracks and who are also orchestrating a Fourth Reich. But the voices of Hunters’ morally good characters — FBI agent Millie Morris and Jonah’s memories of his grandmother, Ruth Heidelbaum, who had been working as the group’s verifier by investigating Nazi identities — warn that committing to Offerman’s dark brand of justice makes heroes indistinguishable from villains.
Hunters shows how hard it is for Jonah, who has every reason to hate Nazis for killing his grandmother and his ancestors, to distinguish between hunting truly evil Nazis and trusting the police, FBI, and the justice system to do their jobs.
And just when we think Jonah has held onto his goodness and his fairness in not killing people who would not hesitate to kill him, he fails his last moral test because of a major revelation.
In Hunters’ season one finale, Offerman tries to kill the series’ big bad, known as the Colonel. Their confrontation ends up with both of them in a car that plunges into a river. Sister Harriet, Offerman’s right hand and most adept hunter, saves Offerman, while Hunters suggests that the Colonel dies. While in rehabilitation, Offerman tells Jonah he’s disappointed in him, because Jonah couldn’t kill the American Nazi Travis Leich. This sparks a fire in Jonah to prove to his grandfather that he’s good enough to lead the next generation or iteration of hunters.
Jonah pursues a Nazi called “the Wolf,” a.k.a. Wilhelm Zuchs. Deciphering clues left by his grandmother who had also been tracking the Wolf, Jonah finds out that the Nazi is actually a plastic surgeon in New York City.
Jonah captures the surgeon and takes him to Offerman as proof that he’s strong enough to be part of the hunters. Offerman and Jonah’s grandmother Ruth had suffered a long history of torture and obsession at the Wolf’s hands, and Jonah believes delivering the Wolf to Offerman is the ultimate sign of his loyalty.
But instead of interrogating the Wolf, Offerman murders him quickly, without any kind of questioning or ceremony.
Jonah was expecting Offerman to have a bigger, more poignant reaction to coming face-to-face with someone who made his life a living hell. Hunters had already established the idea that killing a Nazi quickly was a show of mercy (as Jonah’s fellow hunters Mindy and Murray displayed in an earlier episode where they found the Nazi responsible for killing their child). Offerman also didn’t recite a prayer — something the hunters do as a last rite before their murders.
Shocked at the disconnect of Offerman showing mercy toward the Wolf, Jonah has a flashback, recalling all the times that Offerman wasn’t part of or wasn’t familiar with his grandmother’s stories, even though they shared so many experiences and survived the Holocaust together. And he comes to a startling conclusion: Offerman is the Wolf, and he killed the real Meyer Offerman, taking his identity after Soviet forces liberated Offerman’s concentration camp. Then, after killing the real Offerman, the Wolf forged a letter to Ruth explaining why they couldn’t be together.
Jonah realizes the clues his grandmother left weren’t about the Wolf being a plastic surgeon, but rather the idea that the Wolf had gone to the plastic surgeon as part of a scheme to assume Offerman’s identity.
Everything Jonah knows about Offerman locks into place (including a scene from episode five, when a Nazi known as the Snake seemed to recognize Offerman, and a scene from the final episode, where the plastic surgeon was impressed with Offerman’s stitches). It’s hinted that Ruth knew this Offerman wasn’t the man she knew, wasn’t Jonah’s grandfather, and that she was ultimately killed because of it (when she died in episode one, she said, “You can’t hide,” possibly in reference to the Wolf’s new face).
The Wolf admits this is the truth, and tells Jonah that killing Nazis was his penance, explaining why a Nazi would kill other Nazis. But this reveal prompts Jonah to kill Offerman in a fit of rage, not just for a grand betrayal of trust and the Wolf’s history as a Nazi, but also because Jonah says that he doesn’t deserve the opportunity to perform that penance, doesn’t have the birthright to kill Nazis, because of who he is.
And because of this kill, Jonah’s soul — the moral battle at the heart of the show — is now tainted.
Twist No. 2: The Colonel’s identity is (sort of) revealed
The last we see of the Colonel, the series’ big bad, is of her being stuck in the sinking car with Offerman. The assumption is that she dies, since the only other person who’s there, Sister Harriet, confirms in the finale that she’s dead. Presumably, Harriet would know since she dove into the water to save Offerman, and would have noticed what happened to the Colonel.
In a telephone conversation later in the episode, Harriet mentions that the Colonel has died. We don’t know who she’s talking to or what Harriet’s true intentions are, but the person on the other end of the line responds by saying “long live the queen.”
But the Colonel’s death doesn’t last for long.
As Jonah explains to the group that he’s killed Offerman (who was actually the Wolf), Joe storms out and is kidnapped by what seems to be a pair of Nazis. His kidnapping is made to look like he’s abandoned the group, as Roxie mentions that his apartment is packed up. And we pick up with Joe at the end of the finale, finding out he’s been transported to Argentina.
There, in the flesh standing before Joe, is the one and only Colonel, the head of the proverbial Nazi snake. She greets him, brushing his face with her hand — a moment of unnerving gentleness from a complete and total monster — before sitting him down at a table for supper. Four Aryan-looking young boys join them at the table, and then a man, whom we only see from the back and from the nose down, joins them and the Colonel.
“Time to eat, Adolf,” she says in German.
“I’m hungry, Eva, darling,” he replies.
This exchange, combined with a brief flash of Adolf’s gray mustache, signals that the Colonel is talking to Adolf Hitler and that she is Eva Braun, his wife. In the real world, Hitler and Braun died of suicide in 1945, but it seems that in this fictional world, their deaths were all smoke and mirrors. Hunters not only hits you with the reveal that the Colonel is alive and kicking, but also happens to be one half of the most ghoulish couple history has ever seen.
The Eva Braun/Adolf Hitler reveal, combined with the reveal of Offerman’s true identity and the FBI’s failure to prosecute the Nazis leaves the show in a grim, hopeless place. The good guys are in a corner. The Nazi forces are growing, in part because of the American government’s impotence. And Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun are alive, well, and trying to form another plan to take over the world and create a master race.
Hunters’ twists affirm the show’s grim worldview
But as depressing as Hunters’ finale is, it fits into the credo of the show.
Hunters is not a show about the good guys “winning,” per se. Instead, it offers a hard look at the United States, a country that prides itself on having fought the Nazis in WWII, and how the country isn’t as squeaky clean as Americans have been taught. After all, the country also recruited Nazis to help its space program (a very real thing that happened), and Hunters suggests that decisions like that laid the foundation for America’s current political climate and present-day rise of anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism (your mileage may vary on how well it executes that vision).
Hunters makes clear that the idea of good defeating evil is nothing but a fantasy, the stuff that Jonah is always referencing from his comic books. Jonah’s reality is much more dismal, as the bad guys don’t care about rules or the law and will do anything to “win.” For Jonah, being “good” and letting the FBI or police handle Nazis means letting them off the hook and letting history repeat itself. Hunters, then, isn’t so much the revenge power fantasy it looks to be on the surface, with Nazi hunters doling out punishment to evil, hateful Nazis, but rather a show that uses revenge fantasy elements as an indictment of the United States and what it purports to stand for.