Joe Dawson

Highlander character

name = Joseph Dawson
age = c.55
born = 1950
teacher = Ian Bancroft
teacher_of =
portrayed = Jim Byrnes
first = The Watchers
movies = ,
seasons = , , , 5, , |

Joe Dawson is a character from the fictional universe of the "Highlander" franchise. A mortal Watcher, he is portrayed by actor Jim Byrnes.


Dawson is first introduced in the first episode of season two, "The Watchers" (1993), as a middle-aged, scholarly man working as a clerk in a bookshop owned by James Horton in Seacouver, Washington, United States. MacLeod has been led there by a clue written by Darius on the Fifth chronicle, an old book MacLeod found in Darius' rectory after his death. MacLeod does not know at first that Dawson is his Watcher, but Dawson tells him the truth after MacLeod knocks out two Hunters: "I probably know more about you than you know about yourself. (...) I could tell you the time and place you became Immortal, the name of your first love, but that's not important. What is important, is that you care about mortals, and you don't kill for pleasure."Episode "The Watchers", in "Highlander: The Series" (season 2) (DVD, Davis-Panzer Productions and Gétévé, 2003), disk 1.] When MacLeod doubts his story, Dawson tells him with a smile, "You've been around for four hundred years. You'd feel it if I were lying to you. You can always kill me. But between you and me, I hope you don't have to." This episode also introduces Dawson's family, his brother-in-law James Horton and his niece, Horton's daughter Lynn. Dawson is stunned to learn that Darius was probably killed by Watchers. Dawson reports this to Horton and has to witness MacLeod's confrontation with Horton. MacLeod finally convinces Dawson he is telling the truth. Dawson and his niece Lynn confront Horton, who is finally injured by MacLeod. Dawson and the Watchers disappear from the bookshop.

In "Turnabout" (1993), Dawson asks MacLeod to stop Immortal Quenten Barnes. MacLeod agrees because Barnes is threatening his friend Michael Moore. No one realizes that Barnes and Moore are the same person. Conversely, when MacLeod asks him to break the rules of the Watchers to get information, Dawson hesitates before accepting.

In "The Zone" (1993), Dawson asks MacLeod for help again, to check if the leader of the Zone is Immortal but tells him, "Be careful around Canaan, allright ? I would hate to lose another friend", to which MacLeod retorts, "Since when did we become friends ?"Episode "The Zone", in "Highlander: The Series" (season 2) (DVD, Davis-Panzer Productions and Gétévé, 2003), disk 2.] When MacLeod tells Dawson Canaan is not immortal, but he still wants more help from Dawson to stop him, MacLeod tells, "There are people that watch and there are people that do."

In "Under Color of Authority" (1994), Dawson mentions bird-watching is a "lot less dangerous than keeping an eye on [MacLeod] " and adds, "You know, maybe we should both stick to watching the birds, MacLeod. That'd be much safer all around." [Episode "The Zone", in "Highlander: The Series" (season 2) (DVD, Davis-Panzer Productions and Gétévé, 2003), disk 4.]

In "Unholy Alliance" (1994), Dawson tells MacLeod two Immortals have been shot by mortals and then beheaded by an Immortal and adds, "You watch yourself, MacLeod."Episode "Unholy Alliance", in "Highlander: The Series" (season 2) (DVD, Davis-Panzer Productions and Gétévé, 2003), disk 5.] When Dawson learns that the mysterious Immortal is Xavier St. Cloud, he decides to help MacLeod despite MacLeod's warnings. Dawson introduces MacLeod to Barton, Xavier's Watcher, ignoring that Barton is a renegade Watcher helping Xavier and James Horton to behead Immortals. After Horton shots Charlie DeSalvo, Dawson pretends not to know that Horton is still alive. MacLeod meets Horton in the Dawson family crypt and Horton hints that Dawson knew he was alive. MacLeod follows Dawson to a wharf when Dawson meets Horton and see them together. Later, Dawson tells MacLeod, "After you fought with Horton, I had to take him to the hospital. He was dying. (...) He surprised us all. But I made sure he was through with the Watchers, MacLeod." When MacLeod angrily asks why Dawson failed to tell him this, Dawson answers, "Because I knew you'd kill him. (...) I've known the man for twenty-five years, he's my sister's husband. I couldn't just let him die. (...) I didn't even know he was here, until you said you saw him... I had to find out why he came back." When MacLeod angrily asks what Dawson would have done if he had known what Horton was really doing, Dawson cannot answer. MacLeod is hurt by this breach of trust and answers, "Next time I see you will be the last."

In "Unholy Alliance Part Two" (1994), Dawson tries to regain MacLeod's trust by giving him the address of Xavier and Horton's hiding, telling him, "What's done is done, MacLeod. I can't take it back. (...) Maybe we weren't friends, but we did trust one another once, based on nothing more than a feeling. I just hope you can trust me now. (...) Whether you believe me or not is up to you. But it's the truth."Episode "Unholy Alliance Part Two", in "Highlander: The Series" (season 2) (DVD, Davis-Panzer Productions and Gétévé, 2003), disk 5.] MacLeod actually finds Xavier and Horton where Dawson told him they were. Later in Paris, Dawson finds Horton as Horton is about to flee in a boat and aims a gun at him. Despite Horton's claim that "we're family," Dawson shoots him. When MacLeod hears the sound of the shot and joins him, Dawson tells him, "We make mistakes... we clean them up." The script remarks, "A debt has been repaid." [Episode "Unholy Alliance Part Two", Final Shooting Script, p. 46, in "Highlander: The Series" (season 2) (DVD, Davis-Panzer Productions and Gétévé, 2003), disk 5.]

Joe Dawson served in Vietnam under Immortal Andrew Cord. In 1968, after seeing Cord shot, Joe accidentally stepped on a landmine, blowing him up. He was saved by the resurrected Cord, who carried him in back and took him to the army medical center. There he tried to tell the psychiatrist that it had been Cord who had saved him, but was told that Cord was dead. Later, he was told that he had his legs amputated.

Not being able to cope with the loss of his legs, he tried to commit suicide by shooting himself. Before he was able to do that, he was visited by a Watcher named Ian Bancroft, who told him about immortality. Joe found a new meaning to his life and became a Watcher, owing it, in his perspective, to Andrew Cord. Bancroft would become Joe's mentor within the Watchers and a close friend. That year, he begun his Watcher career as an historian. He later became a field Watcher, observing Immortals like Roy Ferrer (1971-1974) and Liza Grant (1975-1978), later being assigned to Duncan MacLeod in 1979.

The Watcher oath states that they can only observe and record, but never interfere. Because of the developing friendship between Duncan MacLeod and Joe, he has been forced to break that oath, almost leading to his execution by his fellow Watchers.

Joe met his untimely demise in , trying to rescue immortal Reggie Weller from the Guardian, who responded by running him through with the shattered blade of Duncan MacLeod's sword.


Byrnes says of his character, "Joe's been through the wringer. (...) It would be hard for people to be around him too much, I think. He's kind of a loner, because at some point he's got to have some serious demons. These people have witnessed this crazy stuff; how do you deal with it ? It's hard to be ordinary. Joe is extra ordinary [sic] , he's really ordinary. I mean that in a good way."

Character development


The script of "The Watchers" describes Dawson as a middle-aged or older man called Ian Dawson, saying, "There is a sense of power and mystery behind the man's scholarly appearance."Episode "The Watchers", Final Shooting Script, p.7, in "Highlander: The Series" (season 2) (DVD, Davis-Panzer Productions and Gétévé, 2003), disk 8.] Actor Jim Byrnes precises, "he was either North American or English, somewhere between forty and sixty. (...) Immediately, I said, 'No, I'm not an Ian.' So we changed the name to Joe."Jim Byrnes, in Maureen Russell, "Highlander: The Complete Watcher's Guide", Warner Books, 1998, ISBN 0-446-67435-4, p. 97-101.] Byrnes was hired on a tight schedule and says, "Originally, I knew I was doing this one episode ["The Watchers"] where we were going to introduce the character and then we were going to take it from there. And they promised me "x" number more episodes just to kind of sweeten the pot to get me to do the show on short notice."

According to Executive Producer Bill Panzer and Creative Consultant David Abramowitz, actors Michael York and David McCallum wanted to play the part.Episode "The Watchers", Bonus Material, Bill Panzer and David Abramovitz's interview, in "Highlander: The Series" (season 2) (DVD, Davis-Panzer Productions and Gétévé, 2003), disk 1.] They were looked at because initially Joe was meant as a character "more studious, [with a] much tighter personality" than he eventually became. Abramovitz says, "In the beginning with Joe, the Dawson we wrote was a totally different character and it didn't work as well as it could." Byrnes was finally chosen because, according to Abramowitz, he had "a certain quality that was just more real, more earthly than the other two (...) he had his own trials to live through his life, being handicapped, and he was a wonderful actor, but more than an actor he's got presence on a screen." Abramowitz adds, "He's a human guy, he's a real mensch, Jim. There are no illusions. There is strength but not a tremendous amount of vanity." Bill Panzer says, "he was a real mensch."


Dawson's function as a character is mostly one of exposition. Byrnes says, "So many times, it's the nature of the game, I end up saying, 'Well, you know, in 1865 they found this guy' and just do exposition. You got to tell the story some way. You're like the narrator because of the nature of the show; it's not about me." Dawson also had to face conflicts of his own. Abramowitz thinks, "Look at the stories that Joe opened up because of the character of Joe and the conflicts that Joe faces. And coming to terms with being somewhat of a hypocrite, which is, 'We observe; we don't act.' And then you see Joe act. Which happens because he is human and because it's a classic case of 'Do what I say, not what I do.' And that's the way life is and that's the way people are. (...) So, those things are always very difficult, and those are the things that he plays with. In "Indiscretions", it is Joe and Methos, and the issue of interference comes to the fore."

In "The Watchers", Dawson is working in a bookstore the script of the episode describes as "like Book Soup in Los Angeles, cluttered". Later, Dawson moves from the bookstore to the blues bar. Abramowitz explains, "Jim Byrnes as a bookstore owner just doesn't make it for me. The best thing we ever did was, later on, move him into the bar, which is where he lives and where his soul plays." [David Abramowitz, in cite web |url= |title=The Watchers (Season 2 Episode 23) |accessdate=2008-06-16 |publisher=Davis/Panzer Merchandising Corp |archiveurl= |archivedate=2003-08-30] Abramowitz says, "We came up with the idea of the blues bar, which was a perfect place for him and gave us opportunities to hear his music." Byrnes says, "I wanted to get into a milieu that I enjoyed and that Joe enjoyed, just as the character. And it happened because everybody has discovered that it doesn't just say on my résumé that I'm a professional singer and guitarist. I actually am. Everybody came out to hear the band play and then thought, 'How can we incorporate this into the show ?' And we found a way and it's been great. It really helps you as an actor because it broadens Joe's scope immediately. It gives him a wider palette." Byrnes thinks, "Music is Joe's form of meditation, where he would go; it's Joe's martial art." Some of Byrnes's music compositions were used in "Archangel" and "Avatar". Another song by Byrnes, "Jack of Diamonds", was used in "Run For Your Life". Panzer recollects, "That song was so cool that we lengthened the scene fifty percent, because we wanted to hear more of his music as the whole thing works so wonderfully together." Panzer further adds, "That was the first time he ever sang on the show, and was kind of the trigger that led us to build Joe's place so that we could showcase his blues singing and his playing." [Episode "Run For Your Life", Bonus Material, Bill Panzer and David Abramovitz's interview, in "Highlander: The Series" (season 2) (DVD, Davis-Panzer Productions and Gétévé, 2003), disk 3.] Associate Creative Consultant Donna Lettow says, "For "The Cross of St. Antoine", we had just built Joe's a couple of episodes before, and a memo had gone out, saying, 'Use Joe's; we love it, it's beautiful, and we spent a lot of money on it.'"Donna Lettow, in Maureen Russell, "Highlander: The Complete Watcher's Guide", Warner Books, 1998, ISBN 0-446-67435-4, p. 26-27.] Lettow further recalls how they arranged a breakaway window for Dawson, who in this episode tries to rescue his girlfriend. The window broke on its way to the set and Byrnes is actually trying to break a tempered window with his cane. Eventually one of the grips painted a crowbar to match Byrnes' cane and Byrnes managed to break the window. Lettow also recalls, "There's an episode, "Indiscretions", where we find out that Joe has a daughter, Amy Brennan. And in the version that we sent to the set, she never knows. It's an affair Joe had in his Watcher Academy days, and he and the girl's mother decided it was best, as Joe says, 'To ruin one life instead of four.' And [Director] Dennis Berry called after the script went up and said, 'Don't you think a fiery scene between Joe and Amy about it and then Amy gets kidnapped? Now Joe has unfinished business. They've had a fight; he really has to get her back. Wouldn't that be dramatically better?' And indeed, in this case, it was, and we went ahead and made the changes. "Indiscretions" is all about things that Joe and Methos did in their past that have come back to haunt them. (...) Methos has a longer track record, of course. But at the heart, I think they're very similar."

Dawson has a complicated relationship with Duncan MacLeod. Executive Producer Bill Panzer says about "Turnabout", "this episode was the beginning of the relationship, well the expansion of the relationship between Joe Dawson and Duncan MacLeod. For Joe to help MacLeod by getting him a file, was for him a very big step in what became a major character arc as the two of them grew closer and closer." [Episode "Turnabout", Bonus Material, Bill Panzer's interview, in "Highlander: The Series" (season 2) (DVD, Davis-Panzer Productions and Gétévé, 2003), disk 1.] Abramowitz thinks of "Unholy Alliance", "It created tension between Joe Dawson and Mac, which was a very good thing, so that Joe just wasn't a sidekick, wasn't a helper, that he had his own agenda, that he had his own view of the world, and it really solidified in some ways what the perspective of the Watchers were." [Episode "Unholy Alliance", Bonus Material, David Abramowitz's interview, in "Highlander: The Series" (season 2) (DVD, Davis-Panzer Productions and Gétévé, 2003), disk 5.] Panzer further says that Dawson "was (...) the first Watcher, that we know of who (...) started step over the line a little bit. There was that separation between the Watchers and the Immortals, and he didn't just observe, didn't just record, but occasionally chose a side, (...) started to help." Abramowitz further observes, "I think that Joe believes that there is something singular and special about Duncan MacLeod, that there may be a destiny MacLeod has to fulfill, which is even greater than the Watchers'. (...) Why in our universe does Joe think Duncan is special ? Because he has seen signs, "Avatar", "Armageddon", "Something Wicked", "Deliverance", "Prophecy", that separate MacLeod from everyone else, that there is a prophecy that MacLeod is the anointed one. We hint at it, and obviously Joe feels this, plus he feels a tremendous admiration for MacLeod. He loves Duncan MacLeod. This is as deep as one man can feel for another. And I think it's returned."

Tynan thinks of the relationship between Dawson and James Horton, "Horton would not die. Of course, his brother-in-law, Joe Dawson, was the shakiest gun in the West. He seemed to not be able to hit the guy in any part of the body that would actually kill him. Horton kept surviving." [David Tynan, in Maureen Russell, "Highlander: The Complete Watcher's Guide", Warner Books, 1998, ISBN 0-446-67435-4, p. 18.]


The audience reaction was favorable. Abramowitz recalls, "he was one of the fans favorites all over the years that we made the show." He explains, "the audience actually took part, they could identify with the Watchers. (...) It's hard to identify with someone who is Immortal. Sometimes they live for eight hundred or a thousand or five hundred years, but a Watcher's just a normal human being. And so the audience could find themselves thinking, 'I could be that guy'. And I think Joe became every man of the show. He became the audience in a big way." Byrnes says similarly, "I think [the Watchers are] part of the reason that the character caught on. We are all Watchers, everybody that's a fan of the show. We are all members of the same organization, so I think that puts me, an ordinary guy, in extraordinary circumstances, and that gives everybody something to hang on to. I think that's why the character has worked. We all get older and have our aches and pains and we look different every day, you know, a couple extra miles, so it gives that sense of continuity. I just put everybody, all the viewers, I think, a little bit closer to the picture. Because they see me, and some days I don't look so hot and some days I look all right. It's the human element. Joe's just an ordinary person witnessing extraordinary events." Executive Script Consultant David Tynan says, "I like writing for Jim Byrnes. Joe Dawson is an interesting character because he is human. While MacLeod is human in many ways, he's Immortal. Joe is a human like I am or like you are or anyone else is. So he's very accessible." Abramowitz thinks, "Jim's soul plays through Joe Dawson." Byrnes says of his work, "I had a good rapport with the crew, with Adrian [Paul] , with the writers, the producers, etcetera. Obviously, I didn't get in the way, and what I did didn't hurt anybody. And people seemed to enjoy the character, so it's continued."

"Brother in Arms" and "Armageddon"

In "Brother in Arms" Dawson is seen losing his legs and in "Armageddon" Dawson is tempted into having his legs again. Executive Script Consultant David Tynan says, "There have been a couple of shows where Jim, the actor, has had to deal with Joe, the character, facing the loss of his legs. ["Brother in Arms"] In the scene where Joe wakes up to find his legs gone, I had to ask Jim what it was like. Jim said, 'Well, the fact is you don't wake up and scream in terror, you wake up and go "Whoa", and fall back to sleep, because you're so shot up with morphine, you have no idea what they're telling you.' So we adjusted the script accordingly. And certainly we were very concerned how Jim would feel, as we would be concerned about how any actor would feel about something that approached his personal life in such a way. And Jim was OK with it. I think that's a tribute to him as an actor and as a person, that he's not afraid to explore those areas. Or they are areas that he has in some part explored and he's not afraid to put on the screen. The temptation scene in "Armageddon" was a very unusual scene. It's hard to watch in some way, probably hard to do."David Tynan, in Maureen Russell, "Highlander: The Complete Watcher's Guide", Warner Books, 1998, ISBN 0-446-67435-4, p. 17-18.] Abramowitz says, "I loved "Armageddon" because Jim Byrnes gave an incredible performance, which was heartbreaking."David Abramovitz, in Maureen Russell, "Highlander: The Complete Watcher's Guide", Warner Books, 1998, ISBN 0-446-67435-4, p. 7.] He says further, "I called him before and I said, 'Jim, how do you feel about this?' Because I would never do anything that would make him uncomfortable as a human being. But he was actually excited to do it. He was really into it, up for it, going for it. He's come to terms with his life and who he is. (...) Joe is pretty much the human factor, but he's the heroic human factor." Associate Creative Consultant Gillian Horvath says, "It's big stuff for him. It's issues from his own life, but it's not about him; it's about Joe, but they obviously share some certain traits. That he's willing to bare his own life, his own feelings, in order to give Joe something that strong. That he cares enough about the character to say, 'Yeah, let's give him this big scene and in order to do it I will use myself, part of me will be offered up.'" [Gillian Horvath, in Maureen Russell, "Highlander: The Complete Watcher's Guide", Warner Books, 1998, ISBN 0-446-67435-4, p. 20.] Lettow recalls that when the producers viewed the dailies of Armageddon, in which Ahriman looking like James Horton offers his legs to Dawson, there was "not a dry eye in the room. And we watched those over and over and just marveled at Jim Byrnes' ability. And sat here saying, 'Oh my God, what have we done to him?'"



External links

*imdb title|id=0144964|title=Highlander: Endgame
*imdb title|id=0299981|title=Highlander: The Source
*imdb title|id=0103442|title=Highlander: The Series
*imdb title|id=0144714|title=Highlander: The Raven

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