“Tracker” Justin Hartley Goes Off With Jensen Ackles

jensen ackles in tracker with justin hartley guns blazing 2024

There was a whole lot of anticipation among Jensen Ackles fans for last week’s episode of “Tracker” – and probably a lot of anticipation mixed with glad-you-finally-discovered-this-great show emotion from Tracker fans who have made the show a bona fide hit well before Ackles joined the party. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the show and put it on the “shows I’d like to watch” list that lives in my head and rarely gets any shorter but hadn’t managed to yet.

That meant watching the previous episode live and then doing a 2-day binge watch to catch up. I watched “Tracker” with a couple friends and we all got sucked into the show and the Shaw family mystery and the beautiful (and often familiar) Vancouver locations – so two nights of 5 episodes in a row was actually a lot of fun!

So, I already loved Colter and Justin Hartley’s portrayal on “Tracker,’ understated and nuanced and with the same ability to convey a lot of emotion with very few words that I’ve been spoiled by “Supernatural” for. I already loved Reenie and Bobby and Teddi and Velma and Colter’s sister Dorie – and I was already very very curious about the mysterious older brother and black sheep, Russell.  Especially after what Dory said about wanting her family to be back together again, including her two brothers.

Trackers set shots 1 ep 12.

So, like I said, a whole lot of anticipation – one of the most enjoyable things about fandom, whether it’s “Tracker” or “Supernatural.”

There are also just some plot similarities to “Supernatural.” A murdered parent under mysterious circumstances, growing up with a paranoid militaristic father, estranged brothers, saving people hunting things (in this case people not monsters), living a relatively isolated life. And Vancouver! But the story and the family and the characters are also very different.

“Tracker” often has a scary cold open that reminds me of “Supernatural,” and this episode was no different. Roanoke, Virginia, a terrified man hiding behind a truck at a gas station in the dark, nobody around, trying to duck the security cameras. A man comes through the woods with a flashlight, looking shady, and the other man stashes something in the trash and runs away.

Cut to Colter in his trailer at night in the woods when a car pulls up. Colter pulls his gun and goes outside. A man gets out of the car and we can’t see him clearly in the car’s headlights as he walks toward Colter – until we see the light shining through some familiar bowlegs.

Russell: Hey, little brother.

That packed a punch.

“Tracker” isn’t “Supernatural,” it’s a hit show all on its own. Justin is great as the main character, and the supporting characters are awesome and it’s enjoyable just as it is. But Justin and Jensen have been friends for a very long time, and that meant the show is well aware of the passion of “Supernatural” fans and appreciative of its star’s and his friends’ sense of humor, so paying a little homage to “Supernatural” was a no brainer. And fun!

The Shaw brothers are very much not the Winchesters, but Jensen Ackles saying “hey little brother” will never not evoke Sam and Dean a little bit too. An affectionate nod, if you will.

I love a show that’s self-aware and writers that aren’t afraid to go there.

Colter is guarded, but Russell is trying to be friendly. Remember, these two haven’t seen each other for decades – Colter was still a kid when tragedy struck the family and his big brother disappeared (after possibly killing their father). Talk about an awkward reunion!

Russell: You gonna shoot me or can we sit down and have a few? Brought some of my home brew.

(An amusing little shout out to Ackles’ real life brewer business – and also an in joke between Justin and Jensen, because Justin sort of started that whole venture. As Jensen related at a con a little while ago, Justin left his home brew equipment at Jensen’s when he moved, and never picked it up. Eventually Jensen’s brother-in-law, Gino, said hey how about we try this out? And the rest is Family Business Brewing Company history.)

The two brothers sit around a fire drinking beer, tentative and awkward with each other. Apparently, Russell didn’t show up for a meeting they set up the week before, saying “something came up”. Which, ouch. Good for you, Colter, for still being willing to sit down and hear what your brother has to say.

Their father’s death is like the elephant in the room, and Russell goes there – because really, he had to. He says he didn’t push him, doesn’t know if he fell or if someone else pushed him, but does know that there was someone else in the woods that night. Their dad was a crazy sonofabitch, but he had enemies.

(Maybe not a Dean Winchester shout out, but ‘sonofabitch’ is certainly a Dean tag line)

Colter has been Team Dad (and Team Mom) all this time, the “good son” who stayed connected and loyal while his two siblings both got out, one way or another.

Russell: The man was hard as hell on us. Made us learn how to skin a rabbit, not exactly a skill I need these days.

(Sorry, but the parallel to John Winchester is too obvious not to see. Not that it’s an Easter egg, it’s just that the Shaw family story is similar to the Winchester family story in some striking ways. Skin a rabbit, gave me a .45…)

Russell says that their mom was the one who told him to stay away, which obviously leaves Colter with a lot of questions. Especially in light of what his sister said in last week’s episode about their mom having as many secrets as their dad.

Russell: She said it would be best if I left and kept quiet. She said our lives depended on it.

So, he left, and stayed gone, then enlisted – to leave it all behind.

Colter: Why would mom let me believe that you did it?

Russell: Yeah, I don’t know. I like to think she did the best she could, but mom had her secrets, trust me.

That little exchange gave us a bit of insight into Russell. He’s not an uncaring man who left his family because he was angry at them or because he was guilty of something. And even after his own mother told him to leave and then poisoned his relationship with his brother by blaming him for their dad’s death, he’s trying to give her the benefit of the doubt here. That’s pretty big of him, honestly.

Russell also tells Colter that the other man he saw in the woods that night is someone he’d seen talking to their mother. Colter bristles, unwilling to think his mother might have played some part in it all. He’s understandably confused, and there’s no reason for him to trust this brother who took off all those years ago. He tries to push Russell away, and Justin does a great job of letting us see all the hurt and fear that’s behind that. If he lets his big brother in, will he just do something that causes pain again?

Colter: So, I guess we’re done here, right?

Russell: I thought this would be two brothers burying the old family hatchet, huggin’ it out…

Finally, he allows himself a moment of vulnerability and admits why he’s really there. Ackles lets us see every bit of how hard that is for Russell. These are two men who were wounded and hardened by their paranoid father, who once drew a knife on his own children and threatened them and was often terrifyingly out of control around them. Both brothers are tough because they had to be, and unwilling to be vulnerable because they were taught not to be. Both have been going it alone, not trusting others, and both are reluctant to change that now. But Russell takes a chance.

Russell: I… I could use your help.

Immediately, Colter goes into tracker mode. It’s been his way of dealing with the harsh hand life dealt him, to go out there and help other people find loved ones who are missing. A way of working through his own experience of losing people he loved – not just his dad, but his siblings too. He purposely keeps Dory at arms’ length, and he truly lost Russell. Until now.

Russell tells Colter about his friend Doug, who he clearly cares about. Colter asks the same questions he would ask if this were any other job.

Russell: I can pay you for your help.

Colter: It’s not about the money.

Ain’t that the truth! I give Russell a lot of credit for not chickening out and walking away – and Colter a lot of credit for the same.

Russell: Well, will you help me or not?

They don’t look at each other, casting furtive glances at the other now and then, trying to size each other up, looking and then quickly looking away before the other catches them. It’s something Sam and Dean did too, a nod to some of the norms of masculinity that make it hard for men to connect openly and easily.

Colter says yes, and Russell takes it in, looking down, swallowing down the emotion until he can take a sip of his beer and hang onto that toughness that he feels he needs.

Well done, Justin and Jensen. That scene said so much with only the barest of dialogue.

Colter picks up Russell at the motel he’s staying in the next morning; it’s a motel used in “Supernatural” too, in Season 12. I love the distinctive motels dotted throughout the Vancouver area, and love that productions take advantage of them.

Russell has a cup of free motel coffee, and some tales of pro-cheerleader-turned-dental-hygienist forays in the hot tub out back with a grin. They’re definitely posturing for each other, showing off, jockeying for position, two very alpha males both trying to figure out how they can partner up and have each other’s backs.

Russell’s vulnerability shows again when he checks in with his brother though.

Russell: We’re good, right? You believe me – about Dad?

Colter: I don’t know what to believe.

Justin Hartley driving hard on Jensen Ackles rear in trackers

Russell leaves it at that, but it’s clear that he cares. After all this time of keeping the family secret, it’s important to him that this brother believes him.

Russell puts his shades on and crosses to the other side of the truck to get in, pausing to pat a black 60s Chevy affectionately as he comes by.

Trackers car but not Supernatural baby for Jensen Ackles
It’s not ‘Baby’

Just about every “Supernatural” fan watching immediately gasped “was that an Impala??”  It wasn’t, but it’s a clear affectionate nod to Dean Winchester’s “Baby.” This one was a ’65 Chevy Malibu but close enough. Classic black Chevy? Check! Thank you “Tracker!”

Russell settles into shotgun, shades on, Ackles’ distinctive tattoo (that he shares with “Supernatural” costars Jared Padalecki and Jeffrey Dean Morgan) on view.

Russell shares more about Doug, who’s like family. They served together, and now both are working for Horizon Group doing civilian contract stuff. As Russell says, lots of special ops guys miss the excitement when they transition to civilian life, so this kind of shady job keeps the adrenaline flowing. And of course can get you killed. Russell also says he owes Doug for saving his life.

They go see Doug’s wife, Tracy, who presents them with a package that was delivered that morning – a severed finger ewww.  Tracy is understandably freaked out, complaining that Doug doesn’t tell her anything about the work that he does. Russell answers, defensive.

Russell: Because he can’t, you know that!

Back at the truck, Colter asks Russell to fill in some pencil graphite on a paper.

Russell: What’re we doin?

(That’s a very subtle shout out if it is one, but Ackles fans know there’s a bit about how he often says that same phrase, along with “comedy elbows” when he and friends are about to do a bit. It made me laugh, intentional or not)

Russell is grudgingly impressed by Colter’s ability to pull a fingerprint off the severed finger (ewww) and the then calls Bobby, saying he’s “got a guy”.

Russell (incredulous and mostly affectionately mocking): You got a guy?? An op analyst for your reward hustle?

Colter (bristling): It’s not a hustle!

Bobby gives them an ID on the finger and they go to the morgue to see the body. Russell immediately tries to charm the morgue attendant, but he is no Dean Winchester.

Russell: Hi…(reads name tag obviously)… Yolanda. Beautiful name.

She rolls her eyes. Russell is undeterred. He points out that she has “kind eyes…helpful eyes…I like that…”

Colter looks at his brother with amused affection mixed in with his internal eye rolling.

Jensen Ackles comparing girth size with Justin Hartley on Trackers set

Yolanda says only relatives can see the body.

Russell: Oh I didn’t mention, we’re his cousins. We just need a minute…then maybe we can go grab a drink or somethin’ somethin’

Yolanda: No.

Russell: Ah, I was so close! Can’t believe the kind eyes didn’t work…

Colter does what he usually does and gets reckless, leaping up to the roof to break in.

Russell is caught off guard by his little brother’s badassery.

Russell: Whoa, whoa.

Colter turns back like, are you coming or what?

Russell barely makes it. Colter offers him a hand and he slaps it away and rolls to his feet, going ahead of Colter to the window. (If that wasn’t an Ackles adlib, I’ll be shocked). A fan who was lucky enough to watch filming tweeted that

Brothers, sheesh.

They manage to work together to break in the door, though.

Colter: Thanks.

Russell: Thank you.

Russell does note that not hearing an alarm is surprising and that it seems like breaking in was too easy…

They find the guy with all his fingers chopped off (ouch) and Russell just gives Colter a look when he asks if he’s ever seen something like that before. And at that moment the cops come to arrest them.

Russell to Yolanda as they’re taking him away in handcuffs: Kind eyes….offer for dinner still stands…

(The actress who played Yolanda tweeted that Russell was right, she does have kind eyes, and oh btw is it too late for that dinner? I mean, who turns down Jensen Ackles??)

Luckily (as always) Reenie shows up to free them from jail, saying she looked up Russell’s “Tracker” record and paid his outstanding fish and wildlife fees.

He flirts with her, to her amusement.

The three have a bite to eat at a food truck and then Reenie gets a phone call.

Reenie: Oh balls.

(Okay, that was a definitely “Supernatural” Easter egg, because that’s Bobby Singer’s trademark exclamation. Like Reenie, it was always Bobby who worked miracles for Sam and Dean)

Russell: Okay I’m gonna need a sit rep on the thing between you and her.

Colter insists there’s no situation, but when Russell clarifies that she’s fair game, he says no, she’s off limits.

Russell: I’m just messin’ with you.

It’s true, he is. It’s his way of trying to regain some of that sibling relationship they likely had as kids, with “Tracker” brotherly ribbing part of the way they connected.

They go to where the poor man’s body was found, Russell pronouncing it “sloppy work” and reminding us that he’s been a contract killer for hire for the government/Horizon so despite his charm he is actually a scary guy.  I’m a little vague about this whole part of the “Tracker” plot, but they end up in a shop that does rituals and blood magic. Russell says Doug was into that superstitious woowoo “Tracker” stuff.

The scene in the shop is priceless. The brothers are back in sync, trying to convince the skeptical shop owner that a friend sent them.

Jensen Ackles and Justin Hartley crusing gay bars for hot men in trackers

And ending up at gun point in a back room for “Tracker.”

Owner: On your knees, cop.

Colter: You don’t wanna do that.

Russell: Listen, if you’re gonna shoot, shoot my brother first.

It’s a clear code of some sort, followed by Colter’s “well in that case, on 3, ready? 3!” This only makes “Tracker” more fun.

They take down the shop guys just like that, and when they say they don’t want trouble, respond with “well, you got trouble.” Russell holds the owner with a gun in his face to force him to talk. The guy protests that when a ritual is started, it has to be completed, and Doug wanted a protective talisman to keep his wife safe.

(Me: And that involved some poor guy’s finger???)

Russell: Is there a blessing that can keep me from squeezing the trigger and blowing your face off?

Colter: He’ll do it…I’ve seen him do it!

The terrified guy gives them a name: Solano.

Russell reacts to it, a sneer on his face as it looks like he almost pulls the trigger anyway.

Jensen Ackles feeding hot juices to Justin Hartley on Trackers set.

Colter notices and asks him about it. Apparently, they did a job in Panama and killed Solano’s brother (a “health alternation”, Russell glibly calls it).  Doug went back to the kill spot to get a knife that Russell dropped and was seen, and now Solano is after Doug to avenge his brother.

Reenie calls and tries to warn Colter not to sniff around Horizon, it’s dark stuff, he can’t trust them. She and all of us know that he’s not gonna listen though.

Colter: I made a promise to Doug’s wife. He’s in danger and I’m gonna go get him back.

All business now, Colter asks Russell if he has a handler, and they go see her over Russell’s protest that it’s not a good idea. She’s keeping her shady business life separate from her personal life, in the middle of a party for her kid and unhappy with Russell for both being there and breaking his “Tracker” NDA.

Handler lady: Not the best move.

Russell: Well, I’m full of those.

Russell doesn’t care.

Russell: NDA is no Bueno now that Doug has been snatched. Come on, we’re not gonna stop.

She reluctantly gives them the address of a safe house and they go there, finding the door ominously open and a dead man on the floor and Doug gone. They realize Solano wants to kill Doug himself, revenge for his brother. Colter is a realist, saying they’re in over their heads and need the cops, but Russell says no, reminding him that Horizon is a black ops contractor for the government.

Russell: It’s just you and me, man, no one’s comin’ for us. If you wanna tap out…

Colter: I don’t tap out.

You get the feeling neither of the Shaw brothers does.

Russell: I didn’t think you would, I just wanted you to know what you’re getting into.

As they drive, he shows Colter the knife, saying that their dad gave it to him.

Russell: He said it was one of the few things a man could count on. Don’t know why I’ve kept it all these years. He didn’t make you carry one of these?

It’s the knife that Doug went back for.

Colter: It’s important to you. Not a lot of things you can count on in life.

Russell takes that in, lets a little fondness show on his handsome face.

Russell: It’s good to have you back, bro.

Colter: I never left.

Russell: You know what I mean.

I think he does.

The two talk a little about the future, about what’s the plan for next. Colter says he doesn’t have one and is surprised to hear that Russell does – opening up a little brewery.

Russell: You’ve had my beer, it’s good.

But Colter says for him, this is it.

Colter: Open road; wouldn’t wanna be anywhere else.

They meet up with Reenie, Russell is once again flirty. She gives them some intel, knowing that giving it to them is a mistake and will ruin her weekend.

Russell: I would make it up to you…

Reenie: Not necessary.

Russell: But the offer’s there…

As they head to the truck, Colter states the obvious.

Colter: This Solano guy is gonna have security everywhere. We can’t go in there guns blazing – we need backup, and our backup needs backup!

Russell shakes his head, approaches his brother, grinning reassuringly.

Russell: I got you – you and me. C’mon man, you good?

Colter nods, and Russell smiles, unabashedly happy to be teamed up with his little brother again.

They are very badass together in the Vancouver woods, taking out the guards.

Colter: Well done, Russ.

(Yes, they do call each other Russ and Colt. A nice touch.)

They scope out more guards in the house.

Russell: I still like our odds though. You good?

Colter: I’m good.

They sneak past the guards and up the stairs, get into a really badass gun fight with smoke bombs, there’s some wordless communication between the “Tracker” brothers, and they’re in sync with their guns drawn to take down the bad guys.

Unfortunately, one of them was only semi-down for the count and gets off a shot in Russell’s direction. The brothers turn in sync and take him out. Is it hot in here?

Trackers season 1 ep 12 with jensen ackles

Colter: You hit? Let’s see.

Russell: Yeah, I’m fine, let’s go.

Colter (protective little brother kicking in): You don’t look fine.

Russell frees a tied up Doug, helping his friend outside even though he’s bleeding. After he gets Doug in the truck, he half collapses against the truck.

Colter: Lemme see that.

Russell: It’s fine.

Colter is persistent, saying at least let me clean it up and wrap it for you. Russell allows it, shrugging off one sleeve of his jacket. This is the world of “Tracker.”

It’s like that jacket was part of his tough guy exterior, because when he slips it off he’s suddenly a guy in a Stevie Ray Vaughn tee shirt with a tattoo on his arm and bullet in it. He’s bleeding and hurting and a little woozy, and needs his brother’s help. He looks surprisingly vulnerable all of a sudden, and it makes the character even more compelling and nuanced. Ackles is better than just about anyone at showing a character’s pain and bravery and vulnerability all at the same time, and he pulls that off here, Russell breathing harshly through the pain, trying to be stoic.

Colter: You know the drill here, right? Gonna burn like hell.

Russell: Yeah yeah, just do it.

He grits his teeth as Colter cleans the wound and bandages it.

Russell: You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?

Colter: Little bit…

He urges Russell to see a doctor, but Russell insists he’ll do that later, that he needs Colter to get Doug to safety while he takes care of some unfinished business (It’s unlikely Solano would give up on his revenge quest that easily, after all)

Russell starts to walk away and Colter calls after him.

Colter: Just like that? Goodbye?

Russell turns back.

Russell: Hell no, I’ll come find you, talk about that exit plan of yours.

Colter: Told you, I’m fine.

Russell: Yeah, that’s very on brand. Hey man, thank you, okay? I’ll see ya when I see ya.

He smiles, and waves as he walks away.

“Tracker” has some great music, and a song starts to play as Colter takes Doug back home, where his wife greets him. She asks where Russell is and Colter shrugs.

Tracy: It’s hard, isn’t it? The half answers? You get used to it.

And we wonder, will Colter get used to it? Will Russell be back?

Colter drives to the motel, where the clerk tells him that Russell checked out a few days ago – but left a package for Colter. Inside is a roll of money (payment for the job as promised) and a note: “Keep this safe for me.”

It’s in Ackles’ handwriting, and we all kinda know what Colter is gonna find in that envelope. He pulls out the knife, with Russell Shaw on it. There’s a hint of a smile on Colter’s face as he drives away.

Justin Hartley writing and setting up his hot hard gun 2024 Trackers
Courtesy of Littlebeelife2

At first I was like, why did he leave his knife? But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense as full of meaning. It’s an object of connection, a tangible reminder that Russell doesn’t want to disappear again. That he trusts his little brother with his most prized possession, something from their childhood that binds them together. In fact, he trusted him enough to leave it here, knowing that Colter would come looking for him.

It’s also interesting to think of what his dad said when he gave it to his oldest son – that it was the only thing a man could count on. Colter and Russell grew up believing they could only count on themselves, and lived in a solitary way because of it. Russell is questioning that narrative now, saying that it is in fact not the only thing he can count on – because he can count on Colter.

A pretty emotional ending for this show called ‘Tracker,” and a really satisfying one for “Tracker” fans.

It seems like everyone had a blast behind the scenes on the show too, including Ackles and Hartley

Trackers with Justin Hartley and Jensen Ackles in tight jeans
Jensen Ackles with Justin Hartley on Trackers set hot tight jeans boys
Courtesy of Trackers

We already know we’ll see Russell again on “Tracker,” even if only briefly, in the season finale this weekend. And honestly? I can’t wait!