Caution: Spoilers ahead for Watchmen
Nite Owl isn't officially confirmed for HBO's new Watchmen TV series, but does he have a starring role in the premiere episode anyway? Set in an alternate 2019, the latest interpretation of Watchmen is essentially a sequel that follows on from the events of the original Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons comic book set in the 1980s. As such, the HBO series balances out a predominantly new cast led by Regina King with older versions of familiar Watchmen characters.
Jean Smart appears as Laurie Blake, the Silk Spectre of the Watchmen vigilante group, Jeremy Irons is almost certainly playing Ozymandias/Adrian Veidt, or at least a clone of him, and Dr. Manhattan makes a brief appearance in the series premiere having turned up on Mars for a new construction project. The Comedian and Rorschach both die in the previous Watchmen story, which leaves Nite Owl, a.k.a. Dan Dreiberg, as the only major character who is still alive, but not confirmed for the new HBO series.
However, there's a lot of evidence at hand to suggest Nite Owl does appear in Watchmen and is actually Don Johnson's Judd Crawford. Numerous links between the two characters can be drawn, but there's been no explicit confirmation as of yet. Here's why Dan Dreiberg and Judd Crawford could be one and the same.
Who Is Dan Dreiberg AKA Nite Owl In Watchmen?
Dreiberg is the second Watchmen character to take over the Nite Owl mantle, the first being a New York cop by the name of Hollis Mason. After receiving Mason's permission to continue the Nite Owl legacy, Dreiberg begins fighting crime under the same persona. This member of the Watchmen could be considered a mixture of superhero characters Blue Beetle and Batman, with a dark suit and no superpowers, relying only on hand-to-hand combat skills, gadgetry and intelligence.
Renowned for his strong moral compass, Dreiberg is, like most of the other vigilantes, retired at the start of the Watchmen comic books, but soon drawn back into the fray after the death of the Comedian. The original story saw Dreiberg team up with his best friend, Rorschach, and new love interest, Laurie, to stop Ozymandias from triggering a catastrophic event. The group ultimately fail, and Rorschach is killed for his refusal to accept the situation. Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, on the other hand, resign themselves to a quieter life together in the wake of the attack.
Evidence Judd Was An Older Nite Owl
The biggest clue that Judd Crawford is actually Dan Dreiberg comes during the raid on the white supremacist group known as the Seventh Kavalry. As several masked racists make off in a small aircraft, Judd and Pirate Jenny give chase - in Archie from the Watchmen comics! Archie, or the Owlship, was Nite Owl's flying all-purpose vehicle shaped like the head of an owl, and is as synonymous with the character as the Batmobile is to Batman. Even during his original retirement, Dreiberg kept Archie safely locked away close to hand, and it's odd that the ship would wind up in the possession of Tulsa's police chief. Unless, of course, Dan is the police chief. Further proof of this comes when Judd forcibly takes the controls of Archie from Pirate Jenny, pushing the craft to its limits as if he felt his flying experience could save the day.
Archie isn't the only prominent link between Judd and Nite Owl. The Chief's office contains several Easter eggs that all point to Judd's real identity being Dan Dreiberg, perhaps the most notable being a copy of "Under The Hood" lying on his desk. "Under The Hood" is a Watchmen side story printed alongside the original comic, and is the fictional autobiography of the first Nite Owl, Hollis Mason. Obviously, this work was a major inspiration to Dreiberg, and could potentially be key reading for any law enforcement official permitting the use of masks and vigilantism, but its deliberate placement in-shot could be yet another clue to viewers as to Judd's true identity.
In a similar vein, the camera also lingers on an old photograph of a young boy with a police officer. While there's no context behind this image, the direction implies some kind of significance and the first possibility that springs to mind is the photo being another tribute to Hollis Mason. Also in the room is a novelty owl mug, and while admittedly not the biggest clue in the episode, the reference to Nite Owl is clear, deliberately inviting comparisons between the Watchmen hero and Judd.
Another important connection between Crawford and Dreiberg is their respective philosophies. In the Watchmen timeline, vigilantes used to be outlawed, but a shift in the political landscape means that cops themselves are now wearing masks and working with the likes of Sister Night and Red Scare. For a police chief to take such a sympathetic stance on masked heroes, it would certainly help if he used to be one.
Does Judd's Murder Bring Laurie Blake Into Watchmen?
Trailers for the remainder of Watchmen season 1 show that Laurie Blake makes her return to the franchise as an FBI agent investigating Judd's death. Even assuming Blake did join the FBI after retiring as a vigilante, it's quite a coincidence that, of all the potential officers that could've been assigned, the former Silk Spectre winds up in Tulsa in the middle of the Watchmen TV show's main narrative. Surely its more than dumb luck and happenstance bringing Laurie back into the story?
If Judd is revealed to be Nite Owl, this would be the perfect motivation for Laurie to come to town, since her and Dreiberg ended the original Watchmen story as a couple. Although they obviously would've broken up at some point during the intervening years, the murder of an ex-partner is bound to pique the interest of a retired superhero. For this reason, Laurie might not even be a legitimate member of the FBI, merely using the badge as cover while she works alone to investigate who killed her former lover. Even if her credentials are legitimate, Laurie likely would've requested the case personally if she was aware the victim was actually Dan, and this would provide the character with a more interesting angle than simply being the agent tasked with looking into a police chief's murder.
Why Judd May NOT Be Nite Owl
There are more than a few obstacles on the path to concluding Judd Crawford and Dan Dreiberg are the same person. Firstly, Judd is living an entirely different lifestyle, with a new name, a new lover and a new job. Judd's career is easy enough to explain - cop is the next best thing to a vigilante - and viewers can assume Dan and Laurie simply broke up. The name change, however, is somewhat more curious - why would Dreiberg go by the name of "Judd Crawford" in the new millennium? There is precedent for using aliases in the Watchmen graphic novel, with Dan calling himself "Sam Hollis" after the Ozymandias incident in order to maintain anonymity. Perhaps this pseudonym was rumbled, and Dreiberg was forced to find another. HBO's Watchmen even gives a clue as to where Dan might've got inspiration for the new name - the musical Oklahoma!
Perhaps a more convincing counter-argument is that Judd simply doesn't feel like Nite Owl. Dreiberg's insecurities and reserved personality were prevalent in Watchmen, but Judd is a jaunty, confident old-timer with a tendency for recklessness. Judd is also noticeably more outgoing - it's hard to imagine Nite Owl singing musical numbers around a dinner table. Perhaps it was the cocaine.
By far the biggest reason Judd Crawford may not be Nite Owl, however, is the fact that he's killed off in episode 1. Hanging one of the original Watchmen is certainly a bold and dramatic talking point to open the new series with, but the impact is only felt if the audience know who the character is before the death occurs. Revealing that Judd is Nite Owl in a later episode will have nowhere near the same level of emotional effect or shock factor as it would've done if Judd's identity had been unveiled before his death. Consequently, it's possible that Judd is a different character altogether, and all the connections to Nite Owl are present solely because he's a massive fan of the superhero who somehow managed to pry Archie out of Dreiberg's hands.
Watchmen continues with "Martial Feats Of Comanche Horsemanship" October 27th on HBO.