In Ridley Scott's sci-fi horror classic Alien, the murderous android Ash (played by Ian Holm) spontaneously malfunctions during a confrontation with Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver). The malfunction occurs when Ripley suddenly discovers Ash’s secret mission to bring the Xenomorph back to Earth. Up until this point in Alien, Ripley has grown weary of Ash, as the science officer always seems to be up to something nefarious and clandestine. Ripley’s suspicions of Ash are not only proved correct, but the true nature of Ash’s being is revealed to be far worse than anything imaginable when Ash assaults Ripley in a desperate attempt to carry out his mission. Ripley is then forced to retaliate, which results in Ash’s malfunction.


Alien's plot kicks off when the crew of the Nostromo are forced to investigate a potential SOS message from a remote alien planet. Despite push back from the crew, who are severely under equipped to deal with this type of situation, a search party is sent out. The crew are then met with an alien parasite. After naively bringing the parasite back onboard, the creature turns out to be a hostile, monstrous alien that hunts them down. In an attempt to kill the alien, Ripley discovers that Ash is a covert android, who has been trying to smuggle the alien back at the crew's expense.

Related: Alien: Everything Changed From The Original Script

Ash begins to show signs of malfunction as he loses control over his covert mission. Ash's moment of complete breakdown occurs when physical violence breaks out between him and what's left of the Nostromo crew--beginning with a minor altercation with Ripley, and ultimately when Parker breaks off Ash's head and Lambert finishes him with an electric prod. The more damage Ash takes, the more he malfunctions. Director Ridley Scott offers a unique perspective on the ordeal when he suggests that Ash has underlying sexual desires for Ripley that he cannot control or understand, causing his circuits to fry. With this explanation, the reason for Ash's malfunction can be attributed to a total lack of control over his robotic duties and humanistic desires.

How Ash's Malfunction Led To Behavioral Inhibitors In Androids


Ash's malfunction is later explored in Alien's sequel, Aliens, when Ripley learns that Bishop (played by Lance Henriksen) is also an android. The catastrophic events of the original film are played off as a mere malfunction of an older android model. This malfunction then leads to behavioral upgrades in newer androids, so as not to repeat the events of the Nostromo. Bishop explains to Ripley that older androids were always a bit "twitchy," and that, due to his behavioral inhibitors, he is incapable of harming a human. Ultimately, the behavioral inhibitors prove successful as Bishop ends the film as one of the good guys.

Ash's malfunction in Alien is as iconic as it is sudden, catching both the audience and the characters off-guard. Ash's short-circuiting comes as a direct result of his inability to command his physical desires, so they get the better of him, and he malfunctions. That is, the reason Ash malfunctions is that he is ill-equipped to deal with the chaotic world he is desperately trying to master.