This article contains spoilers for Watchmen episode 3 and the book.
Watchmen episode 3, “She was Killed by Space Junk,” introduced two major characters from the original book in the form of Jean Smart’s FBI Agent Laurie Blake (formerly known as Laurie Juspeczyk, the Silk Spectre) and Jeremy Irons’ Adrian Veidt (formerly known as the heroic Ozymandias). OK, we’re cheating a little bit here since Veidt has been present since the very first episode and everybody watching knew who Irons was playing anyway, but this is the first time they’ve bothered to confirm his actual identity. But two others loom large over the proceedings, even in their absence. The first is Doctor Manhattan, who has at least shown up on a TV screen from time to time on the show. But the other is Dan Dreiberg, the hero formerly known as Nite Owl.
In the book, Dan Dreiberg was one of the second generation of costumed heroes in the Watchmen universe, and the second to hold the name of Nite Owl. Inspired by the first Nite Owl, Hollis Mason, who operated in the late 1930s and through the 1940s with Hooded Justice and the Minutemen, Dan took up the mantle with a new costume and a more technological approach to crime fighting in the early 1960s. He partnered with Rorschach for a number of years before his fellow masked hero became too unstable to work with, and also worked with the Comedian to help quell riots during a police strike in 1977. Those riots helped lead to the passage of the Keene Act, which outlawed extralegal masked vigilante activity.
Dreiberg willingly retired when the Keene Act was passed, but was tempted back into costumed adventuring in 1985. After becoming romantically involved with Laurie Juspeczyk, Nite Owl and the Silk Spectre broke Rorschach out of prison in 1985, and ultimately confronted Adrian Veidt about his responsibility for the deaths of millions of New Yorkers. The book ends with Dan and Laurie living under new identities (as Sam and Sandra Hollis), contemplating a new era of costumed adventuring while living with the horrible secret cost of the new world peace brought on by Veidt’s plan.
Like Doctor Manhattan, there has been no casting announcement indicating that Nite Owl is actually going to play any kind of major role on HBO’s Watchmen this season. Although, given how well this season has kept its shroud of secrecy in place, that shouldn’t necessarily be a surprise. In any case, as far as we know, Nite Owl isn’t scheduled to make an appearance in the course of Watchmen’s nine episodes, but we did learn a bit about his possible fate in episode 3 and via HBO’s official supplemental materials for the series, Peteypedia.
Before we continue, it’s important to note that Nite Owl’s presence has been felt in other ways on this show in the earlier episodes. The police aircraft in episode 1 was clearly based on Nite Owl’s old Owlship designs, and the enhanced vision goggles that Angela wears in episodes 2 and 3 also appear to be based on Dan Dreiberg’s technology. Nite Owl is one of the four heroes in a Warhol-esque painting on the wall of Laurie Blake’s apartment. Additionally, one of Angela’s daughters chose to dress up as an owl while her sister was a pirate and they tormented their father for an afternoon of play during episode 2. So wherever he may be, Nite Owl still casts a long shadow over the world of HBO’s Watchmen.
Laurie’s current apartment has an owl in a cage, and Dan was known to study owls and write about them in academic journals. Is this one of Dan’s owls, or merely something she keeps to remind herself of her former lover? In any case, Senator Joe Keene, Jr. reminds her of the power of a Presidential pardon, offering that it could even get her owl “out of that cage.” It’s a pointed choice of words, and almost certainly not coincidental.
HBO’s official supplemental materials help fill in the blanks about what happened between 1985 and 2019. One of those details is that Dan and Laurie were arrested in 1995 for violating the Keene Act. So their costumed adventuring continued for a decade after the final page of Watchmen. As it turns out, Dan and Laurie (in her new heroic identity of the Comedienne) were apprehended after stopping Timothy McVeigh from carrying out the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Although, based on the transcript of Laurie’s interrogation by the FBI, “stopping” McVeigh involved killing him, another sign that Laurie had taken on other traits of her father’s. By this point, however, Dan and Laurie were no longer romantic or crimefighting partners, with Laurie citing “irreconcilable differences.” Specifically, as she put it, “He wanted kids and I wanted guns.”
The other key detail is that Dan and Laurie funded their crimefighting operations through Dan’s creation of a company called MerlinCorps. Merlin famously kept an owl named Archimedes in T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, as well as Disney’s The Sword in the Stone. Dreiberg’s MerlinCorps (which he presumably formed under his Sam Hollis identity) mass produced crime fighting technology for the police departments of the Watchmen universe, which explains why Angela sports Nite Owl-esque goggles and why the police operate Owlships. It appears that Laurie’s split with Dan wasn’t particularly amicable, as MerlinCorps also produced the Dr. Manhattan dildo Laurie displays in episode three, as well, something Dan created as a bitter joke claiming that Laurie couldn’t get over her former partner. Still, episode 4 would seem to reveal that Laurie might still have feelings for Dan, as she plays Billie Holiday’s “You’re My Thrill” in her car, a song that was a favorite of Dan’s and had romantic significance for the pair.
After that, all we know is that Laurie took on the “Blake” surname and joined the FBI. It would seem that Laurie cut some kind of deal to get out of jail, while Dan, one of the few seemingly optimistic characters from the book, did not. That FBI transcript reveals that Dan wasn’t willing to cooperate and perhaps even refused to speak to the FBI after he and Laurie were brought in. We’ll see if HBO’s Watchmen actually brings Nite Owl onto the show, or at least explain in more detail why he finally drew a line in the sand and refused to compromise with the government, and we’ll update this with more details as they become available.