By Nick Romano
September 01, 2019 at 10:01 PM EDT
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The Walking Dead spin-off gets its own Father Gabriel, a character who’s somehow even more boring and haphazardly conceived.

Meet Rabbi Jacob Kessner. He, too, is a religious figure with a secret about how he may or may not have turned his back on his congregation. He didn’t physically bar his flock from entering his church, thereby leaving them all to be killed by walkers, like Gabriel. But he did walk out on them and, upon his return, found them all turned into the living dead.

In the context of “Ner Tamid” — taking its episode name for the “eternal light” hanging above every Jewish synagogue — he’s meant to complement the psychological struggles of Charlie, June, and Dwight, in that all four of them are grappling with fears stemming from their past. Charlie doesn’t want to become the person she used to be, a line of storytelling that died and should’ve stayed dead a season ago; all this moving around from place to place through the caravan has her feeling déjà vu from her days with the Vultures. June is working through similar feelings, but she and Dwight are also both dealing with pangs from past decisions they thought were right at the time. June’s gut told her the past places they stumbled upon weren’t right to settle down and call home, so now the caravan is traveling by night and keeping watch over their tanker by day, burning the candle at both ends.

Dwight’s decision to let go of Rollie, one of Logan’s henchmen, comes back to bite him. Morgan and the others are still a few days out from meeting back up with them. In that time, Charlie ran away during the night to find a place for the convoy to live permanently, but the walkers found her first and she was forced to flee. She found herself at Jacob’s temple. He shows her kindness and in return, she wants to help him find a new car battery to keep the light in the ner tamid on. She walkies to June and John, who come to her aid, but then Rollie’s convoy approaches. Sarah and Dwight are then forced to lead them away while the rest of their group go to the secret rendezvous point.

There are some few glaring loopholes, like how Logan’s group is supposed to be listening to their communications over the radio channels, so they’re not supposed to reveal their locations. Except, it’s somehow okay and safe for Charlie to give her location to June and John. Stuff like that happens too frequently this season and everyone just ignores it.

Charlie, fearful of returning to old ways, wants them all to stay at the temple with the rabbi, but his secret is about to be revealed. When Charlie first encountered Jacob, he seemed very devout. He set alarms on his watch to coincide with Jewish ceremonies and argued that maybe God led Charlie to him for a reason. He doesn’t actually believe this, apparently. I say apparently because he flip-flops easily without warning to both sides of that debate.

This whole time he’s been keeping his walker-ized congregation locked up in the rec center and, as soon as Sarah and Dwight need June and John for backup, the dead break free and surround the temple. He admits that his apparent religiosity is just a routine he adopted to maintain some normalcy. At first, he was hunkering down with his congregation when the outbreak occurred, but then he saw the world wasn’t progressing and stopped believing in God. He left the synagogue and, because of that, he didn’t die along with the rest of his followers when something bad happened to them. Jacob still clearly believes, though. In previous scenes, he’s seen refastening the chains that bind the rec doors shut and utters a prayer over the dead. Maybe he wants to believe but isn’t sure he can anymore. Maybe it’s just bad writing. Maybe it’s Maybelline.

Anyway, June, John, Charlie, and Jacob are all on the temple roof after the dead break free and flood the parking lot. John and June, needing to get to Sarah and Dwight as soon as possible, climb down the side of the building and use a ladder to walk from car roof to car roof. They are almost to their SWAT van, but when they balance the ladder on top of the fence they need to hop, the whole fence collapses, leaving them stranded without a ladder on a car roof. Charlie and Jacob devise a plan to lure the walkers into the church using the shofar, a horn used in Jewish religious purposes. Long story short, it works. All four of them are able to escape and save Sarah and Dwight from Rollie’s goons when they come up in the SWAT car. Any semblance of a nuanced take on the concept of religious belief in an apocalyptic setting was lost in the muck of repetitive and dull storytelling.

Meanwhile, Logan seems to have found the hidden oilfields. Turns out, Rollie’s group didn’t flee Sarah and Dwight when they saw the SWAT van ride up. They wanted them to be as far away from Logan as possible. The tapes littering Al’s dashboard suggest he found some information while listening to them. He rides up to a rock quarry called the Lonesome Quarry, which he calls a “ticket to the Promised Land.” Looks like he’s making a lot more headway than the writers on this show.

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