From below, we see the Nostromo drifting through space, as ominous music plays. In the chamber of the ship filled with blinking lights, Dallas communicates with Mother. The computer screen reads: “Request Evaluation of Current Procedures To Terminate Alien?” Mother writes back, “Unable to compute. Available Data Insufficient.” Dallas requests options from Mother, but the system still cannot compute. “What are my chances?” Dallas finally asks, which Mother still cannot compute. Dallas looks worried. The scene shifts to a portal opening up on the ship, as Ash and Ripley prepare. We then see Dallas making his way through the air shaft with a light. He reports his progress to the group, and Ripley tells him that the airlock is open. Lambert acquires a radar reading on Dallas’ progress through the air vent, as he makes his way through, holding a flame thrower and a flashlight, and breathing heavily. He speaks to them through the intercom and requests that they open the hatch to the 3rd junction. They do so, and Dallas makes his way through. He speaks to Ripley through his headset and orders her to close the hatches behind him, which she does.
Dallas continues through the air vent as the hatches close behind him, and Lambert reports that she has located the alien and that it is “somewhere around the 3rd junction.” Dallas keeps shuffling through the air vent, and Lambert tells him to be careful. Dallas shoots his flamethrower down a hatch to make sure that the way is clear as he makes his way down to the 3rd junction where the alien seems to be. Everyone looks concerned as Dallas climbs down the ladder. In the middle of his climb, Lambert tells him to stay still, as she has lost the signal for the alien. Touching a nearby surface, Dallas finds strange slime. “Are you sure there’s no sign of it?” Lambert asks, “I mean, it is there.” Dallas lights his flamethrower, searching for the alien. Seeing nothing, he asks Lambert if he is clear, telling the crew that he wants to get out of the air vent. Just as he says this, however, the alien appears on the radar, moving directly towards him. “It’s moving right towards you!” Lambert whimpers, warning him to get out of there immediately. While Dallas cannot see the alien, he hurries up a nearby ladder. Lambert is screaming into the headset as Dallas makes his way into another chamber and we see an abrupt shot of the alien being revealed by the light.
The radar goes static and Dallas’s location is lost. The crew members try to get in touch with Dallas, but the line is silent. Parker places Dallas’s flamethrower down in the cockpit, and announces he found it laying in the air vent where Dallas was attacked. “No blood, no Dallas, nothing,” Parker says. Parker becomes impatient, banging the flamethrower against the surface, and Ripley tells them that they should move forward with Dallas’ plan. Lambert is upset, unconvinced that they won’t just die like the others. Ripley tries to calm Lambert, asking her what their other options are. Through tears, Lambert suggests that they take the shuttle and get away from the ship, but Ripley reminds her that the shuttle won’t take four people. “Why don’t we draw straws?” asks Lambert, but Parker becomes angry, saying that he wants to kill the alien as soon as possible. Parker continues talking, which infuriates Ripley, and she yells at him when he won’t listen to her and engage in the group discussion. “It’s using the air shafts. That’s the only way!” she tells them, before outlining a plan: they will go in pairs and cut off “every bulkhead and every vent until we have it cornered and then we’ll blow it the fuck out into space.” Parker goes to refuel his weapon, and Ripley asks Ash if he has any suggestions. “No we’re still collating,” he tells her, which makes her laugh, ruefully. “I find that hard to believe,” she says. Angrily, Ripley scolds Ash for doing nothing, then tells him that she has her own access to Mother and will get her own answers. Ash leaves.
Parker goes to refuel his weapon, anxiously darting through the ship, hiding behind corners, ready to kill the alien should it apprehend him. Ripley goes to visit Mother. On the screen, she requests clarification on “Science Inability to Neutralize Alien,” but Mother is unable to clarify. When Ripley then requests enhancement, Mother states that no further enhancement is available due to a special order that is for “Science Officer Eyes Only.” Growing more impatient and upset, Ripley attempts to override, asking Mother about the special order. Mother brings back the results which show that Ash has programmed the ship to make its main priority returning the alien to Earth for analysis. The crew is expendable, Mother says. As Ripley throws back her head, exasperated, we see Ash beside her. “There is an explanation for this, you know,” says Ash, and Ripley becomes livid, grabbing him by the collar, sobbing, and pushing him to the ground.
Ripley rushes out of the console, and tries to get in touch with Parker and Lambert over an intercom. As she moves towards a portal, it closes in her path suddenly. She calls back to Ash, telling him to open the door. When she runs to another door, he closes that as well. We see Ash staring at her menacingly, and Ripley approaches him. A strange white fluid appears to ooze from his head, as Ripley asks him to open the doors. He experiences a strange, unnerving facial twitch, and Ripley runs away from him. As she runs, he pulls at her hair, ripping out a clump, and Ripley falls to the ground. She crawls away, but Ash grabs the back of her jacket and throws her against the wall. The camera pans around him as he stares at her on the ground. Suddenly he looks over to a portal, then throws her inside, his face still twitching. He picks up a rolled-up pornographic magazine and begins to try and suffocate a barely-conscious Ripley with it. She struggles against him, and suddenly Parker and Lambert appear.
Parker and Lambert attack Ash, but Ash lashes back at Parker, grabbing his chest. Eventually Parker manages to hit Ash with a fire extinguisher, knocking him to the ground. Ash begins to malfunction violently, white fluid shooting out of his neck. Parker hits him yet again with the fire extinguisher, and Ash’s head pops off in a disgusting mess of wires and fluid, revealing that he is not a human at all, but an android. “It’s a robot!” Parker exclaims, horrified. The headless android attacks Parker, and Lambert rushes to his aid, eventually stabbing Ash’s body in the back. Later, they examine Ash’s mutilated robot neck, as Parker laments the fact that the company sent them into space with a robot. “They must have wanted the alien for the weapons division,” Ripley guesses. As they discuss the fact that Ash was protecting the alien all along, Ripley asks Parker to plug Ash back in somehow, as he might know how to kill the alien. Parker hesitantly agrees, and they plug in Ash’s head, which slowly reanimates. As Ash’s eyes become alert and white fluid pours out of its mouth, Ripley asks Ash about its special order, which it tells her should be clear from the information transmitted on Mother. He reiterates that the order is to bring back the life form (the alien) as the only priority, and that all other priorities have been rescinded.
They continue to question Ash. When Ripley asks Ash how to kill the alien, the camera zooms in on Ash’s face, as it says, “You can’t.” Ash adds, “You still don’t understand what you’re dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.” Lambert accuses Ash of admiring the alien, to which Ash responds, “I admire its purity…a survivor, unclouded by conscience, remorse and delusions of morality.” Ash mocks their belief that they can survive, telling them that they have his sympathies. Ripley disconnects Ash and tells Parker and Lambert that they will blow up the ship and take the shuttle. The trio leaves Ash, but not before Parker has incinerated his remains with the flamethrower.
Ripley, Lambert, and Parker make their way down a long shaft, as Ripley asks Parker what they’ll need for their journey. She then sends them both down to get coolant for the journey, and that she will prepare the shuttle to leave in 7 minutes. Ripley rushes towards the shuttle. We see a hatch opening on the exterior of the ship, revealing a small shuttle. As Ripley continues to prepare the shuttle, she is surprised to hear the mew of Jones, the cat, over the speaker. Meanwhile, Lambert and Parker gather coolant hurriedly, growing more and more frantic. The scene shifts abruptly back to Ripley who has wandered back onto the ship to save Jones, calling his name. Lambert and Parker wheel a tray of coolant down a hallway, and Parker orders Lambert to “check the bottles.” Ripley continues to search for Jones in the cockpit. Suddenly she hears a rustling nearby, which she moves towards hesitantly.
Dallas’ progress through the air shaft is particularly unsettling. While Dallas is a competent leader, his heavy breathing as he clumsily shuffles through the air vent carrying a shaky flame-thrower is somewhat disheartening. Furthermore, his failed communications with Mother in the previous scene betray his fear, and reveal just how doubtful and terrified he really is. From the moment that Dallas gets into the air vent, it seems somewhat clear that all is not well, and that he is no match for the giant alien that so effortlessly picked off Brett. Ominous music underscores the entire sequence in which Dallas goes into the vent, which, in combination with his nervous comportment, foreshadow his speedy death. Dallas’ doubts and his emotional response to conflict are no match for the unpredictable and savage monster, lying in wait on the Nostromo.
Without a formal leader, Ripley must now step up to the position, and must calm her frantic companions. However misguided Dallas was, the crew members feel particularly lost and discouraged after the death of their captain, and they begin to lose hope, an added inconvenience with which Ripley must contend. Lambert, already prone to fearful outbursts, becomes nearly hysterical, and Parker anxiously paces around the cockpit, muttering to himself about his desire to kill the alien. Ripley remains calm and undeterred, but has her own violent outburst when she begins to feel as if no one is listening to her. While she is a competent and clear-headed leader, Ripley is not used to exercising authority, and must contend with the emotions of her crew mates in the face of emergency.
The most important thing, Ripley highlights, is that the crew members stick together. Cohesion and alliance is the most important element of their plan, but the crew members who are still alive are already splintering and growing too emotional. Lambert is nearly inconsolable and wants to run, Parker has an aggressive desire to kill the alien without any thought of strategy, and Ash remains silent. Ripley’s force as a leader comes from urging her companions to look out for one another and to work together, but this is difficult in the face of a gruesome alien that picks them off one-by-one. Ripley must maintain a single-minded faith in their abilities to get rid of the alien, and also instill this faith in her hesitant and anxious crew mates.
A terrifying revelation is made in this section of the film. When Ripley tries to get more answers from Mother about how to corner and eject the alien, she finds that Mother has been programmed to return to Earth with the alien for analysis. Even more shockingly, we learn that Ash is an android programmed to make sure that this happens. Ripley’s distrust of Ash was not unfounded, as he was programmed to make sure that the alien returns to Earth. In this moment, Ripley realizes that her crew mate, Ash, as well as the program of the ship itself, is conspiring against her, Lambert, and Parker’s survival. Ripley is fighting against far more than she had initially imagined. Not only is there an alien aboard the ship bent on killing them all, but Ash and Mother have been programmed to make sure that the alien stays alive and makes it back to Earth. The conspiracy is far larger and more elaborate than Ripley could have imagined.
This revelation is shocking and terrifying for a number of reasons, but most of all because it yet again reveals the presence of an unknown, internal threat. The most horrifying threats in the film come from the inside. When Kane was revived earlier in the film, the crew believed him to be fine, but were horrified when an alien emerged from his literal innards. Additionally, the entire menace of the alien lies not simply in the fact that it exists, but that it exists inside the ship itself, a threat from within. Now, yet another internal threat is revealed when we realize that Ash is a villain bent on returning the alien to Earth at all costs. Throughout, the film adheres to a tried and true horror tactic; almost always, “the call is coming from inside the house.” The premise that a horror believed to be outside is actually on the inside is a common trope of the horror genre. Alien takes this a step further by positioning the horror in space. Ridley Scott’s depiction of the future is not only terrifying because of its depiction of human interaction with malevolent alien lifeforms, but also because of the insidious internal threats it presents.