Michael Fassbender as Walter (left) and David (right)
Since its release two weeks ago, Ridley Scott's prequel Alien: Covenant has proven almost as divisive among fans as its predecessor was in 2012 for Prometheus. Much of the enthusiasm and speculation regarding Covenant has centered on Michael Fassbender's twin robot characters, David and Walter, who share two memorable and homoerotic scenes in the new movie. The English-accented David, first introduced in Prometheus (Fassbender said at the time that his androgynous look was inspired in part by "early David Bowie"), is a super-smart early robot built with very human idiosyncrasies. By contrast, Walter, with his vaguely Southern drawl, is a good-natured lug who lacks his ancestor's potential for invention (and nastiness). "Does anyone else feel like #RidleyScott fell in love with #michaelfassbender after Prometheus and wrote a fan fiction called #aliencovenant?" PandaSoshi quipped on Twitter. The existing material certainly gave shippers plenty of fodder: witness the sensual flute lesson between David and Walter—"I'll do the fingering," David declares—and the by-turns creepy and romantic kiss the two share just before David stabs his doppelgänger in the neck. "David tries to educate him," Fassbender explains in The Art and Making of Alien: Covenant "I think he sees himself as an older brother, and flirts with the idea of the two of them getting into cahoots and becoming a team."
Posted by I Do What I Want on Tumblr
Posted by K Chloe White on Tumblr
While numerous fans wasted no time expounding on that premise by drawing up Walter/David artwork, others lobbied for Walter/Daniels (Katherine Waterston) or even David/Shaw (Prometheus star Noomi Rapace, who's barely in Covenant). The latter pairing is pretty bizarre, since David acted like a "stalker with a crush" towards Elizabeth in the previous film and in Covenant is implied to have possibly killed her and definitely experimented on her, despite leaving a flower on her grave and professing his love for her. Talk about a problematic fave!
Personally, I don't subscribe to any of these ships, although the friendship between Walter and Daniels is at least sweet and uncomplicated. The Walter/David pairing, while enjoyably kinky, is belied by the actual plot of the film. David encourages Walter to create and follow in his own ambitious example, but Walter's programming means that he’s content to be on the same level as his human crew mates. By the end, he's also put off by David's overtures; his reaction to David's declaring "No one will love you like I do"—side note, isn't that a classic abuser line?—and the infamous kiss is one of apprehension. Or as my friend Mark put it: "I wanted it to be hot, but [David] just made it creepy."
Walter is also the one who points out that David misattributed his favorite quotation—"Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair"—to Lord Byron rather than to its actual author, Percy Shelley. The references to both the bisexual Byron and the sexually ambiguous Shelley add to the striking queer sensibility running through David's characterization. In Prometheus David took inspiration from Peter O'Toole's portrayal of the gay T.E. Lawrence in the classic film Lawrence of Arabia; the reference continues in Covenant, in which David sheers off his long blonde locks while singing "The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo," which O'Toole sang in Arabia. With the reveal that David has created a "beautiful bestiary," he also reveals a parallel with notorious gay serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. As Fassbender explains it in The Art and Making of Alien: Covenant: "In some way or other, like a Jeffrey Dahmer-type character, he doesn't want things that he loves to leave him, so he kills them, and keeps them in caskets or preserved one way or the other."
There's also a sugar daddy/kept boy vibe to Covenant's opening, in which David awakens for the first time with his creator, "Company" CEO Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) in an elegantly furnished white room. Clad in a form fitting jumpsuit, David plays the piano for Weyland, names himself after the Michelangelo David statue standing in the chamber, and pours his master tea on demand. He also reminds Pearce's character of his mortality—"You will die. I will not"—just as younger lovers invariably remind their older partners of that fact.
This photo posted by Fly Boy Skywalker on Tumblr takes a slightly different tack on the opening. Reading Peter Weyland as David's literal dad draws an analogy between the often fraught relationship between fathers and their gay sons. In Prometheus, Weyland describes David as "the closest thing I will ever have to a son," and while the literal reason is that David is synthetic, extrapolating the line onto the father/gay son dynamic plays into the idea that a gay son is not fully a man in his father's eyes. David is visibly uncomfortable with this statement in Prometheus, and spends the rest of the movie faithfully serving Weyland (in an effort to win his love?). By Covenant, he no longer idealizes his father, bluntly telling Walter "in the end, I pitied him." David has begun to create his own family,using the body of Elizabeth as a surrogate and seeding abominable creations with the Engineers' black goo. This parallels the experiences of queer people who create their own families in the most twisted possible way.
A far-fetched reading? Perhaps. Some of the fandom theories and ships are perhaps equally outlandish. But they all demonstrate the diverse and rich ways that online fans can interpret and expand on popular culture and even influence it: fan demand for more of the xenomorph is what compelled Ridley Scott to transform a proposed direct Prometheus sequel into an explicit Alien prequel. The box office for Covenant has been disappointing, but I hope that the passionate fan base convinces Twentieth Century Fox to green-light further stories expanding on the film’s ideas and inspiring a new wave of passionate interpretation.