Violent births come with the Alien franchise territory. There are no meet cutes, only rapid growth and disembowelment at a dinner table surrounded by fellow humans. As Ash shouts not to touch the larvae of what will soon be an unstoppable killing machine, the movie plays its hand and reveals the two-fold villains of the original series.
The Xenomorph is an offshoot of any host the facehugger latches onto. Its origins were unclear and unnecessary at the time of the original film’s release. H.R. Giger’s art and designs are horrific and striking, melding familiar human shapes into a mesh of bio-mechanical engineering and experimentation. It’s unclear where flesh ends and the monstrosities begin. It’s the genius behind the Xenomorph physiology that it adapts to its hosts while maintaining some space Lovecraft-inspired mythology.
Ash, a mechanically engineered android, is an offshoot of Weyland-Yutani. No free will lies behind the eyes of Ash, only wires and programming meant to heed every beck and call from his corporate overlords. Ash is also the perfect organism for a cut-throat company like Weyland-Yutani. Dependable, unquestioning, and expendable. The company is as much the long-running series villain for the original trilogy as the Xenomorph and its evolving mythos.
Ash still admires the purity of this “perfect organism” as yet another being without morals. “Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.” The Xenomorph is the ideal kindred spirit for a being whose own existence of synthetic flesh at the hands of humanity is unnerving at best. There’s no mistake in Ash’s farewell to his crew mates being a mischievous smirk, knowing the creature will make short work of them. While the synthetics in the series are often man-made physical entities to present opposition, the corporations are rooted deeper in the world of humanity. People created these corporate interests to further individuals and make a whole lot of cash. The company perseveres.
Often cited as groundbreaking for featuring the future version of blue collar workers, this decision sets up the non-traditional look at society in each individual Alien entry. As they readjust to the world, we watch hardworking men and women whose biggest concerns are to get paid the right amount of money for doing a job that is time-consuming and isolating. Investigate a distress signal? Bummer for anybody stuck out there, but how much is it going to pay me? Bonus? The Nostromo is in. Capitalism still holds humanity by a short leash. All in the name of some percentage. “Crew expendable.”
Over half a century later, the same corporation sends unwitting colonists to the same planet where Ripley and her crew discovered the Xenomorph. Outer rim colonists and colonial marines are next on the buffet line of Xenomorphs and Weyland-Yutani, honing in on the far reaching grasp of the corporate and cosmic nightmares. The tagline reads “This time it’s war” and war is hell. But it’s also Ripley’s personal hell that she is forced to confront. How would she be any better than the company if she doesn’t go make sure the Xenomorph is gone for good?
Aliens eventually flips the setup from the first film where the humans band together and the android is corrupt, to exposing human corporate interests. Money talks and a character like Burke is all ears. Surprisingly, it’s the android, Bishop, while perhaps not having a full grasp on free will, at least understands sympathy. James Cameron would also later explore machines understanding and contrasting human emotions in Terminator 2: Judgement Day but this idea fits nicely in the most optimistic entry of the series.
Alien 3 delves into straight up purgatory. No heaven, no hell. Just Ripley and some of humanity’s worst beings trapped in a rundown prison at the ass end of space. Everything and everyone Ripley has cared about is gone (RIP Jones the cat) and she’s stuck with the most forgotten members of society, struggling to exist in a world they’ve been from which they’ve been exiled and sought atonement. Not because the prisoners want to go back, nor do they deserve to, but because personal beliefs push them to. All Ripley can do in this situation is end her long-running battle with the beasts. “You’ve been in my life so long, I can’t remember anything else.” Without Weyland-Yutani sending her crew to search the distress call, maybe some other memories would be stored away in there.
Corporations feed on the expendability of blue collar space truckers, colonial marines caught up in militaristic propaganda and a group of space prisoners seeking spiritual atonement. While Weyland-Yutani also bleeds over into the Alien prequel series, Scott is more interested in using them to expose a different beast.
Prometheus shows corporate interests bleeding into the realm of science and exploration. But it’s with this well-funded search that we discover our origins. Origins that are not initially consequential but will eventually sow the seeds for humanity’s destruction. Upon meeting the Engineer, the crew of the Prometheus are torn to shreds, save for Elizabeth Shaw and the android David. Peter Weyland’s final words acknowledge there is nothing in the afterlife and his interests, both in self and corporate eternity, were a waste of what could have been a fruitful life.
What if you met God but God hates you for existing? You’re nothing but a mistake needing to be erased. That is a horrifying thought and one befitting to such a dark series. Science and faith, two subjects Ridley Scott has been interested in as far back as the original Alien guide the trajectory of this new series. It’s a long-winding path. As we all know, the path to hell is paved with good intentions. David is laying down the pavement.
Alien: Covenant is the darkest film of the franchise, not necessarily in tone, but in revelations as to what this series has been all about. We reap what we sow, and we have sown some very bad seeds. Before returning to cryosleep in the Alien: Covenant prologue, Elizabeth Shaw asks, “What if they’re no better than us?” David softly responds, “So long as they are no worse.” David has that covered.
A rebuilt David looks over the Engineer city as the hijacked ship from the end of Prometheus towers over the creators of his own makers. “Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair.” David poetically decimates a civilization to refute their designs and begin upholstering himself to godhood. David wants to be better than humanity and the Engineers. We create so he follows in our footsteps, but he wants a bigger boot.
Perhaps that’s where his interest in women comes from. David has great respect for Shaw, noting her kindness and looking at her with seeming sincerity. Of course, he also murders and experiments on her. Presumably this is to create the original Xenomorph. Women create life and now so does David. Officially the creator of the alien species the series has spent following, David, a creation of man, is also our destroyer.
In the action finale of Covenant, action beats are similar to anyone familiar with the long-gestating franchise. Xenomorph stows aboard ship, Xenomorph wreaks havoc before being blasted into space. But from the monitors, David watches Daniels face off against the creature. Like a proud parent overseeing their child at a soccer game, David witnesses his creation in action against what is left of the Covenant crew. Daniels and Tennessee are victorious, David sighs. On first viewing, the reveal could play oddly but in context and hindsight, David realizes his creation will still need work. With nearly 2,000 colonists at his disposal, David walks through the ship designed for colonization and created a new vessel of terror. David is both Dr. Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s monster.
As the Engineers made man in their image, humanity made androids in ours. God creates man. God hates man for existing. Man creates machine. Machine wants to be superior. Machine kills God. Machine leaves man as a work-in-progress.
Hell is synthetic. Hell is human. Hell is alien. Hell is real and it’s of our own design. David is our Devil. Look upon our works.
Featured Image: 20th Century Fox