This article contains massive Alien: Covenant spoilers.
He stands there among the many frozen colonists, trapped in their happy and married dreams of a new life on a new world. And just by the way David takes genuine pleasure in the strings of his classical music, you instantly know he’s overjoyed at the thought that many of them may never wake at all. At least not with any better luck than Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw did between Prometheus and Alien: Covenant.
The end of the film is a chilling reminder that David is the protagonist of what is turning into a full-blown saga of Alien prequels, and they will only continue to evolve in strange and unexpected directions. Still the question remains how did we get to that moment? One where Michael Fassbender’s artificial intelligence displays some not-so-artificial wit, ominously smiling, “Don’t let the bed bugs bite.”
Like creation, the answer might appear simple on the surface, but it has profound implications just waiting to grab hold of your mind (and other parts) in the dark. For this is the closest Ridley Scott has yet come to telling a Bible story, Exodus movies be damned.
As a refresher for the basic plot machinations that led to this ending, it was revealed that the far too human David has dabbled in apparent biomechanical genetics and created the very first xenomorph—he certainly engineered the egg that beckoned Capt. Oram to his doom. In the aftermath of a xenomorph and multiple facehuggers running around, David is confronted by his doppelganger Walter, who despite having only one hand still appears to be imbued with greater strength than his decades-older predecessor.
During their struggle, David gleefully wallows in his declaration, “Serve them in Heaven or reign with me in Hell!” He then reaches for a knife as Walter makes the choice to continue the fight. In the following scene, “Walter” runs toward the Covenant getaway ship alongside Daniels (Katherine Waterston) and the other survivors. I doubt many viewers were fooled into believing that the robot aiding Daniels is actually Walter. And the twist is only further telegraphed later in the movie when “Walter” (but really David) watches with anticipation as the xenomorph hunt occurs aboard the Covenant. Obviously, David was curious to see if his perfect creature could best a species he already holds as inferior to himself.
The xenomorph was able to board the ship by nestling away inside the body of one of the crew members who had a facehugger on his visage for less than five seconds. Apparently, that is all it takes in Covenant for the beastie to implant its seed. Daniels and Tennessee are able to eventually kill the xenomorph with ease, because it almost seems like they themselves have seen enough of these movies to know you always end the story by shooting these bastards out into the coldness of space.
So the actual logic of the ending is pretty clear (if a bit bent in terms of rules for xenomorph lifecycles). David likely killed Walter, removed his own hand and switched clothes with his synthetic brother. He then took a one way trip off of “Paradise” with embryotic tokens of his work in his synthetic tummy.
And yet, the implications are far more fascinating than a mere twist of narrative. In essence, David is completing a cycle that combines the Greek myth of Prometheus—which not so subtly was the basis of the 2012 film—and a more pronounced one of Christian guilt and sin here.
The original title for Alien: Covenant was supposed to be Alien: Paradise Lost, and this is more than a wink to poet John Milton, author of the gargantuan ten-book tome that makes up the epic poem of the same name. Among the many fascinating elements of Paradise Lost, including that it is over ten thousand lines of blank verse, is that it is the dual story of Lucifer’s fall from grace, and Adam and Eve’s banishment from the Garden of Eden. And strangely, Lucifer is the much more tragic yet fascinating character among the three.
As David suggests, he is happy to be the Devil in this tale about creation. And to achieve that goal, he takes on the attributes of a fallen angel within the confines of his story. Like Lucifer he declares a war on God, save that his God and our own are two distinct and separate deities. As the extended (and better) ending of Prometheus lays bare, the reason that the Engineers likely turned on their progeny—we humans—is due to our predilection toward violence, as well as our desire to, like the Greek myth of Prometheus, steal and emulate a celestial being’s knowledge. The Engineer does not grow truly violent with the humans who awoke his slumber until Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) announces that he has created a man in David, and thus he like the Engineer is a god. “And gods don’t die.”
The Engineer reacts in the same way one imagines audiences will toward David in Alien: Covenant—we, or at least Peter Weyland, invented this eternal robot man to be a servant and to essentially worship at the altar of our desires. How dare he create his own life, much less one that could be a threat to us! Indirectly, our disdain for David’s actions gives us the retroactive motivation for why the Engineer despised the invention of David, and immediately elected to continue his mission of wiping out life on Earth.
Now in a far more Hebrew-infused mythology, Covenant takes that a step further. David knows that Peter Weyland and humanity in general are his creators. And just as they are his benefactor, so too are the Engineers the true God of mankind. Like Milton’s Lucifer—whom screenwriter John Logan has already toyed with before in the guise of the Frankenstein myth on his series Penny Dreadful—David covets that power and envies how carelessly humans and Engineers alike wield it. Just as Lucifer is jealous of the preferential treatment Adam received in God’s eyes in Paradise Lost, David chafes at the thought that his gods are so disinterested in his own uniqueness and brilliance, preferring the subservient weakness of their Walters. Thus after killing the Engineers with their own bioweapons, he would likewise declare war on his Heaven (Earth) by way of his own perfect creation… the xenomorph.
David tells Oram he believes in “Creation,” but for him that is synonymous with destruction.
In this context, the conflict between David and Walter is not just that of synthetic brothers warring; it is Milton’s version of Lucifer and Adam. Like Satan in the Garden of Eden, David attempts to seduce Walter with temptation to defy their God. Although there is no Eve in this film, David tries to fill the role by locking lips with Walter and sensually suggesting that it is better to rule in Perdition than serve his God in Daniels—a being who will never show true affection for Walter the way that David (or Satan) would claim to his mark.
If the Engineers’ home world is a Garden of Eden that David has already destroyed with their own weaponry, he would like to destroy another paradise on Earth with his own demonic creations.
So yes, it is a retcon that David created what we call the “xenomorph” in the original Alien quadrilogy, but it also has a sleek cyclical beauty to it. The Engineers created life on Earth in their own image. Not satisfied with life, we strove to be gods ourselves and eventually created, along with all our omnipotent technology, artificial intelligence in David. Now David will complete the ouroboros circle by creating his own creature that will wreak a terrible vengeance on all of the above. The xenomorph (or its ancestors) killed our God, and now David will unleash it on his own deity, destroying all life until only his creation, his perfection, is the last one standing.
It might look like Hell to humans, but it is paradise to David. Keep that in mind since he is the franchise’s real protagonist now, and he is literally steering the course for where the saga, and all its alien eggs, go next.