Dig is the latest TV series to try and spin Biblical prophecies into conspiracy-mongering. Basically, God has left a bunch of holy nukes laying around and some fanatics are getting their hands on them. Why would God do that? More to the point, why does God allow such awful television to exist in the first place?
Dig, which premiered last night on USA, is a collaboration between Tim Kring (Heroes, Touch) and Gideon Raff (who created the original Israeli version of Homeland). And it feels like the worst of both creators' styles and preoccupations. From Kring, you get woo-woo mysteries, in which Everything Has Meaning, and We're All Connected, plus a small boy who has the answer to stuff. From Raff, you get spy drama and paranoia, centered on the Middle East.
It's not a particularly good mixture, and it feels very much like a warmed-over rehash of other stuff. Jason Isaacs, the star, is playing exactly the same role he played in the far superior Awake. The Biblical apocalypse stuff was handled way more entertainingly (and madly) in the short-lived Zero Hour — which has its whole first season on Hulu Plus.
And pretty much every element of this pilot feels like a dire cliché — what's worse is, Dig knows that it's serving up reheated leftovers, and slops them on your plate with a perfunctory, "There ya go." No attempt is made to add Tabasco to this warmed-over casserole. Or to mitigate the fact that everything about this show feels like it belongs in 2009, the heyday of "Big Mystery" shows, 24 rip-offs and mystical head-scratching.
So in Dig, Jason Isaacs plays Peter Connelly, an FBI agent who's stationed in Jerusalem because sure, whatever. He's having sex with his boss Lynn (Anne Heche) but they do it fully clothed, so you know he has intimacy issues. And Peter is the standard "cop who doesn't play well with others," as symbolized by his conflict with Detective Cohen (Ori Pfeffer) the local cop he's supposed to work with.
Peter is supposed to capture a terrorist named Yussef Khalid (Omar Metwally), who killed a Senator's son back in the U.S. But Yussef turns out to have stolen a valuable breastplate, once worn by Jewish priests, which allows you to talk to God directly (as opposed to, you know, just regular prayer). The breastplate could be awesomely destructive in the wrong hands — but luckily, it's missing its 12 magic jewels.
And then, by the end of the episode, Peter has lost Yussef on the way to hand him over to be extradited to the U.S. — and Yussef got one of the magic jewels, which was entrusted to Peter by the girl he met.
And here's where it gets creepy. You see, Peter's daughter died in some undefined fashion, and he's estranged from his wife (back in the States) because of it. But then, while Peter is chasing Yussef, he spots a quirky free-spirit named Emma (Alison Sudol) who is the spitting image of his daughter. He loses her, but then finds her again later, and follows her. And they wind up, more or less, hooking up. At least, they go skinny dipping together in an underground lake that has huge religious significance to the Jews and Muslims. And they kiss a lot.
Yep — Peter hooks up with a girl who looks just like his dead daughter. And we know this is a big deal, because he gets naked with her, while he has to screw his boss fully clothed. (On the plus side, you get to see Jason Isaacs naked, something that also happened in Awake.)
Anyway, the quirky free-spirited girl is an archeology student who, when she's not helping Peter to loosen up and get in touch with his softer side, is working for a famous archeologist named Ian (Richard E. Grant, totally underutilized). Ian is on the verge of making a Momentous Discovery, if the local politicians don't stop him. And it's hinted that this has to do with the Ark of the Covenant — yes, they make the inevitable Indiana Jones reference, so you don't have to.
When Emma leaves Peter, she slips one of the magic jewels from her breastplate into his jeans pocket. Then she's horribly murdered immediately afterwards — and instead of telling his boss/lover and Detective Cohen the truth about the girl, Peter pretends he never met her and starts investigating her murder against Lynn's orders, while basically screwing up the real investigation.
In Emma's apartment, Peter finds a notebook that's full of the kind of mysterious, super-significant writings that notebooks on these sorts of shows are always full of. And he hides it from Detective Cohen and his boss/lover. And then of course, Yussef gets the magic jewel from Peter, as I mentioned — but I guess the magical breastplate is already in the evidence locker at the Jerusalem PD.
So apart from the creepy necro-incest thing, Peter is basically your standard "damaged loner trying to get at the truth, who looks guilty to everybody else," that every one of these shows has to have. Jason Isaacs gamely tries to invest this character with more life — but he had way better material to work with in Awake.
And it's already clear where this is going. Peter is going to uncover a conspiracy to use ancient Old Testament mojo to cause the Apocalypse, or unleash God's wrath, or something.
But meanwhile, there are subplots. Because this is Tim "everything is connected, man, all over the world" Kring, there's also a couple other Biblical conspiracy things happening in other places. Somewhere in the United States, a boy named Joshua is being kept in a weird compound by scary Christians, led by Pastor Billingham. Joshua is not allowed to go outside or have his feet touch the ground, but sometimes his caretaker Debbie (Lauren Ambrose, massively underutilized) lets him go into a tiny enclosure.
But Joshua keeps hearing the voice of another kid, even after Debbie insists it's just his imagination. And meanwhile, Joshua's being prepared for some mysterious ritual, which happens when he turns 13 tomorrow. But that night, he escapes and gets out into the wilderness — at which point, the Christian cultists gun him down because his feet have touched the ground and he's no longer pure.
In one of the few great scenes of the pilot, Pastor Billingham comes to visit Josh and tells him that they've lied to him all these years, and his parents are dead. They're not coming for him at all, but he's admonished not to cry.
And meanwhile, Debbie hears that other kid too (whom she never heard before, for some reason) and gets into a hidden part of the compound, where she finds an identical twin of Joshua, who seems happier to stay locked up.
But meanwhile! Up in Norway somewhere, some Hasidic Jews have found a perfect red calf that's just been born, and they entrust it to a young boy, who carefully raises it to be beautiful and healthy. But when the chief evil rabbi talks on the phone to Pastor Willingham, he hints sinisterly that something bad will happen to him — the boy taking care of the calf, not the calf, who'll be fine.
I guess if I had to take a message away from the first episode of Dig, it would be — religious people are scary and sinister. They tamper with forces that are beyond our mortal ken, and try bring about the end of the world and stuff. They don't just want to let Peter frolic with the free spirit girl who looks just like his dead daughter. The best thing you can say about all this is that all the major Judeochristian groups get to be evil — it's not just Muslims. Christians and Jews are evil, too. That's something, right?
Which just brings us back to the question of why God allows such dreadful things to happen to perfectly good televisions.