Warning: SPOILERS for Watchmen Episode 3
The mystery of Nite Owl's absence from HBO's Watchmen has finally been solved... but the truth isn't going to make fans of the comic book or Zack Snyder movie any happier. In fact, they may end up wishing they never learned the truth in the first place.
The original Watchmen graphic novel was an ensemble story, but Dan Dreiberg a.k.a. Nite Owl turned out to be just as much of a mascot as Dr. Manhattan himself. So when HBO's Watchmen show was revealed to not only be continuing on from the original story, but including Laurie (Silk Spectre), fans wanted to know where the Nite Owl was hiding. After all, the Watchmen lovers got their happy ending in the comic book sequel. Does the show suggest Laurie and Dan split up? Or that Nite Owl didn't survive to the modern day?
The third episode of Watchmen has offered a definitive answer, and it won't be the one fans are hoping to hear. Yes, it's still possible that Dan Dreiberg could appear down the road, since he's not dead. And no, it isn't implied Laurie and Dan drifted apart and separated. But that might make the truth more heartbreaking, and not less.
Watchmen Confirms: Nite Owl is in Prison
Given the version of Laurie being played by Jean Smart, it would be easy to believe almost any ending to her and Dan's romance. But there is reason to believe that it was losing Dan, and not growing disillusioned about her past heroics, that ultimately pushed her into becoming Laurie Blake, the Comedian's daughter. The confirmation comes when Laurie is visited at her apartment by Senator Joe Keene, Jr., and he discovers the owl she is keeping as a pet caged in her living room.
The owl itself could be a keepsake or fond reminder of her time with Dan following the ending of the Watchmen comic. But when Laurie cynically claims Keene is only asking for help to bolster his run for President, he fires back, suggesting he could sign all kinds of pardons for his friends charged with crimes, or serving sentences. "I could even get that owl out of its cage." That line catches Laurie off guard, cracking her tough exterior. The implication is clear: Dan wound up arrested and imprisoned for his actions as Nite Owl, since The Keene Act (championed by Joe Sr.) made them illegal.
Nite Owl in Prison Answers One Mystery
Fans can still debate whether Dan's arrest and incarceration had to do with his past actions, or if he simply couldn't stay out of retirement. The final tease of Watchmen's ending doesn't definitively say Dan and Laurie are done beating up hoodlums, and the circumstances of Dan's arrest could prove to be even more important than the time he's serving (and have a greater role in Laurie's life path). Fortunately, it does explain why the Tulsa police force are more than a little familiar with the Nite Owl's technology.
The first trailers got fans scratching their heads, showing Nite Owl's famous Owlship being piloted (and crashed) by Police Chief Judd Crawford and Pirate Jenny. The questions increased when Angela Abar was shown to be using X-ray goggles eerily similar to those used by Nite Owl in the Watchmen movie. But if Nite Owl was arrested by law enforcement, there's no mystery as to how his gadgets wound up being used in service against masked criminals. Remember: Joe Keene, Jr. started his masked cop program in his home state personally.
Few strings would need to be pulled in the wake of the White Night murders to give Tulsa police an edge. Add the seemingly covert and off the books, vigilante employment of the Nite Owl ship and goggles, and the line between the costumes vigilantes sitting in prison cells and the masked cops catching ad guys becomes almost invisible. No wonder Laurie became disillusioned. That level of hypocrisy seems too obvious to not be dealt with in the show's future episodes, in which case the implied fate of Dan Dreiberg may be outright confirmed in the process.
While a disappointment for fans who hoped to see Laurie and Dan find happiness together, you can't say it isn't in the spirit of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' source material. Of the entire cast, Nite Owl was undeniably the most good-hearted, well-meaning, and untarnished heroes. And in the world of Watchmen, it may be easier to believe nobody gets a happy ending. Here's hoping President Keene plans on keeping his word.