Before Ellen Ripley came into contact with a Xenomorph, there was David.
There are a few hallmarks of Alien movies that can be found in each and every installment, and though Ridley Scott deviated a great deal from expectation with his divisive 2012 prequel to the original classic, there were no doubt strands of that Alien DNA in his visionary Prometheus. One of the most notable of those strands was the inclusion of David, a brand new android character portrayed by Michael Fassbender.
Beginning with Alien in 1979, androids have of course been a staple of the Alien universe, with not-quite-humans like Ash, Bishop and even Resurrection‘s Annalee Call being some of the most fan-favorite characters in the saga. But with Prometheus and now this year’s Alien: Covenant, Ridley Scott has taken that android element to a whole new level. Just underneath the surface of the Xenomorph terror of the Alien films has always been that idea of creationism, but now it’s at the forefront of a bold new vision that casts an android as the main driving force behind literally everything we’ve ever seen from the franchise.
As a result, Scott has birthed a character even more interesting than Ripley.
This is your Alien: Covenant spoiler warning, by the way.
As revealed in Alien: Covenant, it was David who was responsible for creating the entire breed known as the Xenomorph, and it’s David who is the star of the whole damn show in Scott’s hybrid of a Prometheus sequel and a more straight up Alien prequel than what we got back in 2012. In their reviews of the new film, many have been bemoaning the fact that the Ellen Ripley-esque Daniels (Katherine Waterston) isn’t exactly the most interesting character to be leading the franchise down a new path, but that’s because she’s simply not the central figure in Scott’s new vision – nor is/was Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), who is unceremoniously written out of the story in a way that seems quite intentional.
The new Alien Universe, you see, isn’t about the human characters. It’s not even about the Xenomorphs, per se. It’s about David. And Alien: Covenant is Scott’s Frankenstein story, with David in the role of the Doctor and the Xenos as his monsters.
Dating back to Prometheus, it was immediately clear that David wasn’t quite like the other android characters we had previously seen in the Alien films, as he had a devious curiosity that seemed to not exactly be in line with the way he was programmed. There’s a wonderful scene in the film where David has a conversation with Charlie Holloway, right before he infects Holloway with the Engineer-created black goo that eventually allows him to wipe out the entire Engineer race (presumably…) and then create the Xenomorph.
During the conversation, which is pivotal to understanding every subsequent action from David, it becomes clear that David has the same questions about his own existence that the human characters aboard the Prometheus have about theirs – they’re on a mission to find and get answers from their creators, while David is already face-to-face with his creators on board the ship.
“Why do you think your people made me?” David asks Holloway. “We made you because we could,” replies Holloway, dismissing the android as being an inferior machine that has no real purpose aside from serving his human creators. This clearly angers David, who knows that it is Holloway who is the inferior being. “Can you imagine how disappointing it would be for you to hear the same thing from your creators,” he responds to Holloway, shortly thereafter infecting him with the aforementioned goo and kick-starting the film’s mayhem.
Watching Prometheus back in 2012, my takeaway from that scene was that David infected Holloway because he was carrying out orders from his master, Peter Weyland – he was testing out the goo to see if it could somehow help fulfill Weyland’s selfish desire to prolong his own life, I figured. But after seeing Alien: Covenant, which sort of retroactively makes Prometheus an even more compelling movie than it already was, it’s clear that David was operating of his own volition all along.
David was created to serve, as we see in the opening scene of Alien: Covenant, but his incredible level of programmed sentience made him question that purpose right off the bat – after having a deep conversation with Weyland, David is somewhat taken aback when Weyland orders him to pour him a drink. You can see by the look on David’s face in this moment that he had forgotten for a second that he was not human. Weyland’s order reminds him that he’s been created for one purpose and one purpose only: to serve.
But unlike Bishop and the others, David doesn’t want to serve. David wants to create – a very human desire that has been intentionally removed from later model Walter, played by a much more monotone Fassbender. Davis is an android who knows that the very nature of being an android makes him superior to all human beings (“You will die, I will not,” he tells Weyland), so he develops such a level of hatred for his puny creators that he wants to completely destroy them – furthermore, he wants to (and does) destroy the creators of his creators as well. In the place of the Engineers and the humans, David wants to give rise to his own master race of superior beings that are on his level.
It just so happens that those superior beings are the “perfect organisms” we met back in 1979, firmly tying Ridley Scott’s heady ideas of creationism into the back end of the franchise that the “Prometheus Universe” was always intended to be a prequel to. And David is the linchpin of it all, his curiosity and disdain for human life leading to the birth of the monster that would go on to take so many human lives in the decades-long Alien saga.
The Xenomorphs, however, aren’t the franchise’s devils. Rather, it is David who is the Alien series’ one true Devil. And you’d be hard pressed to find a more interesting, nuanced, and utterly compelling depiction of the fallen angel Lucifer than Michael Fassbender’s David in the one-two punch of Prometheus and Alien: Covenant.
He didn’t want to serve in Heaven. So he’s reigning in Hell.