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Will Viewers Dig Into USA's New Mystery Thriller?

Creators and stars preview the complex drama

Adam Bryant

Holy cow, there's a lot going on in USA's new 10-part event thriller Dig.

The series, co-created by Heroes' Tim Kring and Homeland's Gideon Raff, mostly takes place in Jersualem, where FBI Agent Peter Connelly (Jason Isaacs) is tracking a fugitive with local detective Golan Cohen (Ori Pfeffer). While on the case, Peter meets Emma (Alison Sudol), an American archaeology student who may be connected to Peter's suspect. As he gets close to Emma, they explore the secret underground tunnels Emma's group is excavating, where they stumble upon a strange ritualistic sacrifice. Soon enough, their chance meeting takes a dramatic turn, and Peter becomes convinced there's something much bigger going on.

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Even though the show doesn't make it abundantly clear in the first three episodes exactly what that larger conspiracy is, you'll have to take it on faith that he's right. After all, as Peter navigates his situation in Jerusalem -- made all the more complicated because he's sleeping with his boss Lynn (Anne Heche) -- viewers also spend time with an orthodox Jew in Norway who is protecting a red calf, believed to be the beginning of some great prophecy. And back in New Mexico, creepy religious leader Tad Billingham (David Costabile), who, with the help of one of his followers named Debbie (Lauren Ambrose), is raising a teenage boy (Zen McGrath) for some great (you guessed it!) unknown destiny.

With both Heroes and his most recent show Touch, it's become clear that Kring loves to weave tales that span the globe -- something he believes will pull the audience in. "Part of the fun of watching a show like this with multiple stories is that participation that you do as an audience when you want to know, 'Well how are these things connected?'" Kring tells TVGuide.com. "There are clues in it that tell [you] it's connected, but [you] don't know how and when it's going to connect. That to me is always a really fun way of telling a story."

But the vagueness can become frustrating. Fortunately, Kring says that because the show is layering a 2,000-year-old religious conspiracy on top of a murder mystery, the audience can engage with the show even when they're not watching. "Because so much of it is based on actual archaeological and religious history, it's Google-able and people can actually participate in that way and learn more about what it is that we're talking about," Kring says. "And some of the online components that we're going to attach to the show allow people to do exactly that. They'll think they know [what's coming next]. The idea is for us to pull the rug in different directions."

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As we've learned with many shows built around huge mysteries in the post-Lost era, the mythological mumbo jumbo ultimately means nothing if audiences don't care about the characters. In steps Peter with his complicated backstory. He left seminary just weeks before earning his collar. He then started a family, but his daughter -- who bears a striking resemblance to Emma -- met her own tragic end, which is what's forced Peter to Jerusalem.

"He's dealing with a death in his family and a death that shattered his life," Raff says. "He had the perfect wife, the perfect family, and this trauma ruined everything. He wanted to get as far away as possible from his life in Washington. He finds himself dealing with his lack of faith because of this trauma in the holiest place on earth. He's in a place where everybody is so passionate about everything, and he lost his passion to live. This murder mystery -- he becomes obsessed with finding out what happened and kind of he's re-birthed by it and finds his will to live again."

But his obsession may have Peter connecting dots that don't exist. "You can't have people running around with guns and taking the law into their own hands and seeing things where there aren't things," Isaacs says. "We're in Jerusalem. This is a place that is a tinderbox. You can't have guys going around taking the law into their own hands and pissing off the Israeli police force or in other ways offending the local population. The joy for the audience is trying to watch these pieces come together. Is he going to get there? Will he find the evidence to prove to Lynn so she can back off? How much does she believe me? How much do I want to reveal to her? How much do I need a friend?"

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Unfortunately, it's not long before Lynn begins to worry about Peter's mental and emotional state. "I don't think it's a matter of not trusting him," Heche says. "I think it's a matter of her caring deeply about him and watching somebody struggle through something that you can't [help]. You feel like you're on the outside of it. You want to help, but ...she knows that he's not going to be a guy that plays it by the book. I think there starts to become a question of his stability and also his emotionality around the deep crisis that he's been facing or not facing in his life."

And although Isaacs admits his character has a hard time proving himself to be right, he can't afford not to do so. "This is a guy whose inner life is just static, frozen, and a case comes along and... lights something inside him. He's going to try to make himself whole again. He tries to keep everything in denial, but this case somehow drags him back into the real world and makes him alive and gives him a chance to make something right in the world because he feels like he's fu---- up so badly in the past."Even with Peter's complex motivations, elements of this show still feel familiar. In fact, at one point, Peter even references Indiana Jones. Even so, the creators believe the richness of this story lies in the real-world possibilities.
"Only 5 percent of Jerusalem has been excavated and look how much it revealed," Raff says. "Can you imagine what's hiding under the 95 percent that hasn't been excavated?"Adds Kring: "There's certain archetypes that Raiders of the Lost Ark and Da Vinci Code have tapped into. The idea of archaeology, the idea of hidden codes and symbols and mysteries that are buried and you have to unearth -- it's just fun. You combine that idea with a mystery and a thriller in an exotic location and I'm hoping that we can co-opt the potential that has for the audience."

Dig premieres Thursday at 10/9c on USA.