Dig is split into three separate narratives, each taking place in a different country, though it appears likely from the first three episodes that they’re all headed for Jerusalem for a massive, world-threatening showdown at the Temple Mount. The show kicks off when a pure red heifer without a black hair on it is born in Norway in full view of a group of extremely devout Hasidic Jews, thus convincing them they must literally realize the prophecy in Numbers 19. Halfway across the world in Texas, a Christian fundamentalist group is raising a Jewish boy in an equally sterile scenario—a compound that shields him from touching the ground—in contact with the Jews in Norway. In Jerusalem proper, a grizzled FBI legal attaché named Peter Connelly (Jason Isaacs) and Israeli National Police detective Golan Cohen (Ori Pfeffer) are chasing a Palestinian-American murderer who's killing anyone who threatens his mission of restoring 12 jewels to a high priest’s breastplate, which is purported to let the wearer communicate with God.
The big idea is that all major religions predict the apocalypse—what happens, the show queries, if they set aside their differences to make it happen? Perhaps because the premise is so unlikely, the characters that get the most screen-time are the secular skeptics. The emotional core of the show focuses on Connelly’s trauma following the suicide of his daughter: After he meets a girl in Jerusalem who looks just like her, and who believes that the city emanates mystical “vibrations,” he begins to notice recurring signifiers etched in stone and printed on coffee napkins. Naturally, this only leads to further investigation into the city's most ancient stories, which draws him into the larger End of Days plot. Fortunately, Detective Golan remains the reliable, wisecracking audience proxy to help ground the bizarre plot.
The real-world parallels that dog the portrayals of the show's resident doomsdayers, however, are more sobering. American television most often views Israel through the lens of newsreel footage of the country's conflict with the Palestinian territories, which casts a shadow over the on-location shots of street and marketplace chase sequences here. The American identity of the show’s initial villain, Yussef Khalid (Omar Metwally)—who is an assistant professor of structural engineering and a deacon in his church—speaks to current concern over homegrown terrorists. The compound in New Mexico also looks quite a bit like the Waco home of the Branch Davidians.
The show’s creator, the Israeli Homeland creator Gideon Raff, has said he wants to open a dialogue about religious fanaticism, but there’s also an element of The Da Vinci Code-style cultural tourism at play here. With the strategic framing of the Temple Mount and other relevant sites whenever convenient, and an Essene villain who recalls the magical self-flagellating Albino monk Silas of Dan Brown’s novel, Dig doesn’t suppress its flashy production values, enabled by a grant from the Israeli government. Ultimately the show boils down to a strange mix of pure escapism and troublingly familiar fanaticism, and seems to be inviting interrogation of both. USA has even unrolled a free app to “decode images” in the marketing campaign.