‘Tracker’ Season 1 Episode 9 Review – Aurora (spoilers)

Tracker, the CBS procedural led by Justin Hartley as the rewardist Colter Shaw with a particular set of skills, is back with another episode that just aired.  In episode nine, we’re not in Camden anymore. As predicted last week, this episode of Tracker takes us to Aurora. But Colter Shaw and his Airstream are in Aurora, Vermont, instead of Aurora, Colorado. It’s a quick five-and-a-half-hour drive and the location of Tracker’s newest rewardist gig.

The plot of Aurora

This episode of Tracker was directed by Jon Huertas (more on that later) and written by Sharon Lee Watson (The Unit, Big Sky, and Criminal Minds.) Colter teams up with Detective Helen Brock (Diana Maria Riva) to investigate a missing girl. Her dad, a widower, just posted a $30,000 reward after the case had been cold for three years.

Dad Gavin’s (Robert Moloney) daughter Lana disappeared after being out with her friend. Her friend Jamie turned up dead in the local river three years ago. The whole crime at the start of the episode has some serious Cruel Summer Season 2 vibes. But in any case, everyone assumed that Lana was also dead and just probably down at the bottom of the river, forever lost to the fishes.

Gavin, the devoted dad, never gave up hope, and things blossomed for him when a mysterious clue (that we won’t spoil) recently turned up. The clue is the key to unraveling everything. Colter finds the missing girl (Paolina van Kleef) and presumably gets the reward for his services. This episode has a solid paranormal element, with scenes taking place at an abandoned place called the Harkwood Mental Hospital. 

Justin Hartley and Gavin Russo in Tracker Episode 9 - Aurora
Justin Hartley and Gavin Russo in Tracker Episode 9 – Aurora. Image courtesy of CBS.

Tracker is very much Justin Hartley’s show.

What’s even more evident this week is how much Tracker is Justin Hartley’s and, thus, Colter Shaw’s show. (As if Hartley’s EP credit wasn’t enough to convey that.) His helpers are, again, barely in this episode. Teddi (Robin Weigert) and Velma (Abby McEnany) are only on screen for a phone call with Colter early on in the episode. Bobby (Eric Graise) doesn’t appear at all, and Colter doesn’t use any of his friend’s tech charms. 

Instead, Tracker relies on the strength of Hartley’s charisma and the depth of his performance (plus some amazing guest stars) to carry us along in the story. Outside of the original discovery of Jamie’s body in the river, I think Hartley/Colter was in every scene of this episode. The workload is a heavy lift by Hartley but he does a great job with it. 

Backstory and themes in Aurora

Character-wise, this episode provided a lot of information about Colter. (But not as much as in Missoula.) It also hinted at things to come. One, a new case from Tracker’s early past is revealed. Colter says that it’s haunted him. Second, the episode mentions his father’s death as something that has bugged him. Considering that Camden was more of a standalone and wholly ignored Colter’s backstory instead of just having him solve the mystery, what we got in Aurora was great. 

There were also some interesting layers in this story and thematic elements that merit unpacking in the context of Colter’s character. One of the bad guys in this episode is responsible for horrible and twisted things because of what was done to him as a child. Tracker also had a traumatic past with his survivalist dad, but his way of processing this trauma is to go out and help people. There’s a definite dividing line between good and evil, and Tracker is firmly on the side of good, at least so far from everything we’ve seen of him. Because of that, it’s easy for us to root for him and keep watching. 

The supporting cast in Tracker Episode 9

I will note that we get the camaraderie aspect that’s often so satisfying in procedurals from Tracker’s interactions with Detective Brock. Not only does she provide material assistance in the case with access to police resources, but she also allows us to learn about Tracker’s backstory. Diana Maria Riva is perfect casting here and is completely authentic. Because of how great she is in this episode, as an audience member, we fully believe she’s a small-town detective who is overworked, compassionate and has a healthy side of a guilty conscience. 

In addition to Riva’s strong performance, Robert Moloney as Gavin Russo is an exceptionally strong guest star. Not only does he convey the distress of a distraught parent who, even after three years, wants to find his kid, but he does it in such a way that we sympathize with him. And because we’re sympathetic to Moloney’s Russo, we totally buy into why Tracker would take this case. Moloney’s acting supports who Tracker is as a character: someone who cares and isn’t just in it for the money. 

As Maeve, Bronwen Smith doesn’t have a lot of screen time. But she’s believable in what she is and the twist for her character. I wish we had more time with Maeve because the tension was so delicious, and it felt like things wrapped up really quickly once we met her. But I suppose there’s only so much you can do in a 42-minute episode. 

A broader note about Tracker Episode 9 and Jon Huertas

Aurora is an episode of Tracker that I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time, and that’s because Jon Huertas directed it. And it’s not because of Huertas’ work on the other Justin Hartley show, This is Us. I’m a longtime Castle fan, and if you recall, Huertas was part of the main cast on that series as Detective Javier Esposito. (Or Brad, if you’re a fan of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, but that’s taking it way back.)

Even though he’s a relatively new director compared to his acting chops (with Aurora as his eighth credited episode-directing TV compared to bazillions acting), he has a definite understanding of how you make procedural TV work. Huertas utilized his skills in this episode of Tracker, which made for a well-shot and well-paced story that was fun to watch. 

Jon Huertas and Justin Hartley in Tracker Episode 9 Aurora
Jon Huertas and Justin Hartley in Tracker Episode 9 – Aurora. Image courtesy of CBS.

Where we go from here with the next episodes

The next episode of Tracker seemingly breaks with the naming tradition and takes us Into the Wild

Tracker airs on Sunday nights on CBS at 9PM ET. The season finale will air on May 19th.

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