Alien QandA

How much did Ash know about the alien, and when did he know it? That, boys and girls, is the topic of this morning’s drivel.

I just watched the movie Alien a couple nights ago, any maybe you haven’t, so to quickly summarize: The crew of a ship in deep space is directed to investigate the source of a distress signal. They find an alien ship run aground on a ringed planet. A long-dead crew member has a hole in his chest that looks like it exploded out, and the only living thing they find leaps up from its hiding place and grabs someone’s face. How often have you heard that story, eh? It’s got to be as old as the human race, but Alien told it oh so well.

And yet, I have some questions.

The ship sent to investigate the signal is a tugboat that pulls a huge refinery full of ore across the vast distances of space between planets. The crew seem to be there only to fly the ship. They aren’t explorers. One of them points out they aren’t even a search and rescue crew. The only reason they look into the source of the radio signal is because a clause in their contract ensures they won’t get paid if they don’t.

Most of the crew seem to know each other pretty well, but one of the people on the ship, Ash, is new to to the crew. As it turns out, Ash knows a lot about the distress signal and the aliens before anybody else does. Ash is the science officer on the ship, and he’s been given a special order which only he knows about: “Investigate life form. Gather specimen … Ensure return of organism for analysis. Crew expendable.”

The last part of the special order doesn’t really make sense. If the crew is truly expendable, then why are they on the ship? Can the ship fly itself? Doesn’t seem likely. But let’s assume it can, and let’s assume Ash collects his specimen and the whole crew is killed. Why didn’t they send Ash alone? He could have gone straight to the site of the wreck, gathered his specimen, and brought it back a lot faster than a crew that went somewhere else first, then was diverted to the site of the wreck and wasn’t aware of the objective of the mission.

Maybe the crew and its cargo were a smokescreen to get hold of the alien specimen. If so: Pretty expensive smokescreen. The space ship could only have been enormously expensive. It’s essentially no more than an engine powerful enough to drag a refinery loaded with umpty-billion tons of ore at high speed across interplanetary space. And that load of ore becomes mind-bogglingly expensive just by virtue of the fact that they’re hauling it across the galaxy. Putting all that at risk to obtain a specimen seems unusually risky.

Maybe the ship and its crew were the only possible ship the company could have sent to the planet to collect the specimen, and maybe the mucky-mucks at the company truly believed that the crew was expendable and the loss of the ship was worth obtaining a specimen. Okay, let’s go with that:

The crew lands their ship on the planet, and then three of them – Dallas, the captain; Lambert, the navigator; and Kane, who wasn’t wearing a red shirt but should have been – suit up and go on a hike in the direction of the signal’s origin. Why the hell doesn’t Ash, the science officer, go along on the hike? Why doesn’t Ripley, who seems to have more than a little knowledge about communications? Why do two of the most important people on the ship, the guy who flies it and the gal who steers it, walk to the source of a distress signal, where nothing good could possibly be happening, or have happened? Talk about expendable.

When the plucky little trio returns to the ship, Kane has a life form attached to his face. (I hate to say “I told you so,” but…) By pure luck, the team has satisfied the the first two parts of the special order: They have investigated the life form and gathered a specimen. To satisfy the third part of the special order, all Ash has to do at this point is ensure the safe return of the organism for analysis. Wow, does he ever screw that up.

First, he opens the air lock to let Dallas and Lambert carry Kane to the infirmary. If he knew anything at all about the alien, he shouldn’t have done this. He should have played along with Ripley’s decision to quarantine the away team in the air lock for 24 hours. Why wouldn’t he? It would have satisfied all the requirements of the special order. Instead, he opens the air lock and puts every one of the crew in danger, instead of limiting exposure to just three members of the crew. They were expendable, but unnecessarily endangering them doesn’t make any sense.

Even if Ash didn’t know much about the aliens to begin with, at this point he knows that the alien is parasitic. An alien life form that can successfully parasitize humans is dangerous in ways that are unimaginable but, setting that aside for the moment, bringing it aboard the ship immediately jeopardizes the third part of Ash’s special order, “ensure return of organism for analysis.” If he hadn’t exposed the entire crew to a parasitic organism, the crew may not have tried to kill it. Letting it in almost certainly guarantees that they will.

Quarantining Dallas, Lambert and Kane for 24 hours would probably have worked in Ash’s favor. They were locked up in a room where no one else could see them. Ash had 24 hours to figure out how to control access to any contact with them. His decision to open the air lock and let the away team into the ship couldn’t really be explained by an eagerness to examine the alien, either. He’s a robot. He couldn’t be eager if he tried. If his robotic reasoning interpreted the order “investigate life form” as a need for a hands-on examination of the alien, what difference would a delay of 24 hours make? Zero. Zip. Nada. He’s got at least ten months, the time it will take to get back to Earth, to study this thing.

But he lets it in. The crew is endangered. They decide to kill it with cattle prods and flame throwers. Nice work, Ash. Way to ensure the safe return of the organism. So what does he do to fix his mistake? Well, he doesn’t try to kill off the crew, which would have made sense. He does a little something here and there to throw off the efforts of the crew to kill the alien, but his efforts are really rather feeble. He could have killed off the crew in so many ways: shut off the air, or laced the air with carbon monoxide, or he could have simply snuck up on them one by one with a hammer and bludgeoned them to death, then blamed it on the alien. Wow, would that have made for an interesting movie. And it would have fit the requirements of his special order perfectly.

But no, the only person he tries to kill is Ripley, and after throwing her around the room he hits on the idea of stuffing a rolled-up girlie magazine down her throat as the only way to kill her that makes sense. Brilliant. Ash has got to be one of the dumbest androids ever conceived of for a movie.

Well, I don’t know what else to say and I’ve already spent way too much time on this. If you’ve got any ideas on this, I’d be pleased to hear them.

*Tip O’ The Hat to T-Dawg for enthusiastically hashing out a lot of these questions.

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