Comfortable and Furious

Corporations: Part 4

Carter Burke in Aliens (1986)

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. Or glibness. That’s the saying that seems to be forming on Ripley’s lips when the delightfully consistent Carter (Paul Reiser) arrives at her hospital bedside as she recovers from more than half a century of hypersleep. “I work for the company, but don’t let that fool you,” he begins in his ingratiating way. “I’m really an OK guy.”

Well, he might be nice to Jonesy the cat, but there’s something about his skinny red tie, the way he turns up his suit’s lapels, the beginnings of a quiff, and the occasional use of ‘kiddo’ that scream insincerity. It’s like he’s trying to be hip. Ripley isn’t fooled, staring at him like he’s just walked in, put a hand on her thigh and asked her out for a drink. Yet sharp as she is, nothing can prepare her for his ironclad allegiance to the Weyland-Yutani Corporation and the depth of his treachery.

For this is a man that grows fidgety when it comes to any emotional, human stuff. As she grieves for her tremendous losses that include the death of a daughter, he does not comfort or touch her, a failed motor response that speaks volumes. At the subsequent inquest into what the hell happened to Ripley’s Nostromo crew, Carter is embarrassed by her outburst warning of the creatures’ lethalness.

That doesn’t slow down his wheedling, though, as he tries by hook or by crook to get her to return to the xenomorph-infested exomoon she’s just fled in a bid to find out what happened to a terraforming colony. He’s a company man through and through, speaking of its manufacturing achievements with pride. However, we don’t start to grasp his determination to bring back some of the deadly creatures and monetise them as a bio-weapon until Ripley’s new mission touches down and is promptly half-slaughtered.

She wants to take off and nuke the uninhabitable shithole from space, but such a drastic suggestion causes the blood to drain from Carter’s face. “Hold on, hold on, one second,” he stalls. “This installation has a substantial dollar value attached to it… This is an emotional moment for all of us, okay? I know that. But let’s not make snap judgements, please. This is clearly an important species we’re dealing with and I don’t think anyone has the arbitrary right to exterminate them… I’m not blind to what’s going on, but I cannot authorize that kind of action, sorry.”

It’s a terrific little speech couched in corporate language that underlines what a ‘rat fuck sonuvabitch’ Carter is. As his greed and role in the annihilation of the colonists becomes increasingly clear, it’s almost like he starts to leave a trail of slime wherever he goes. “If you’re smart,” he tells Ripley, “we can both come out of this as heroes and we’ll be set up for life.”

Ripley, of course, doesn’t go for such an offer, leaving Burke no option but to try to cover his tracks. Not once does he ever see her as a real person, but rather an opportunity that can be massaged into the shape he wants. This leads him to set up an imaginative act of betrayal by trapping Ripley in a lab with a facehugger, even possessing the forethought to turn off the surveillance camera. A rattled Ripley, who narrowly manages to evade the assassination attempt, can only shake her head. “I don’t know which species is worse,” she says of the xenomorphs and avaricious, self-serving cowards like Carter. “You don’t see them fucking each other over for a goddamned percentage.”

Building better worlds, indeed.






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