Monday, January 21, 2013

Ask JKM a Question #62: The Xenomorphs in Prometheus?

A reader, Skeptical Gnostic, writes:

“Hi Mr. Muir, I wanted to know your thoughts on a Prometheus theory I have.”

“Now, the evolution of the xenomorph still hasn’t been explicitly explained (yet), but really, to retain a sense of mystery that was robbed in sequels, all we needed to know was that it evolved from simple beginnings at one point in time; the crew in Prometheus merely set off a chain of events that the engineers already experimented with thousands perhaps millions of years prior and the parasite evolved over time to be the perfect weapon. All we saw were some missing links in the early beginnings of the xenomorph so there was more than enough to suggest that this is how they began and obviously they evolved. 

Now, It’s quite clear to me and many others I've spoken to that the xenomorph evolved from worms; worms are hermaphroditic, they shed skin, they lay eggs, they have no eyes, they sense light and will move away from light...Newborn xenos are worm-like in morphology indicating their worm/hammerpede ancestry (ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny), they have no eyes, they shed skin, they appear hermaphroditic and xenos are well known to be afraid of fire. Notice how the hammerpede had acid for blood? Notice how it strengthened its constriction around Milburn’s arms when it was touched? Quite obvious clues there. Over time the hammerpedes mate and lay eggs (remember there were a few swimming around in the ampule chamber) and every generation evolves; growing fingers and more efficient ways of depositing embryos inside hosts.”

“So now we know what came first; The Queen or the Egg? Neither; it was the black-goo, worms and hammerpedes. The worms and the hammerpedes are an example of the Chekhov’s Gun trope and I think the uber-facehugger (Trilobite) and the deacon are red herrings. It’s all implied right there in the film, and we see an indirect route of the process with the black goo used on human intermediaries that resulted in an uber-facehugger and a deacon xenomorph. What we see there is just common descent; in evolution may organisms share common descent if they have a common ancestor, which in the film is revealed to be the black goo. And since there are several temples on LV-223 this implies several versions of the xenomorph bioweapon.”

“Also, notice how the deacon infant wasn’t worm-like? It had no tail...Another clue was a deleted scene showing Milburn finding the shed skin of the hammerpede...Scott and co probably thought it was too obvious a clue! Worms as the ancestors of the xenomorph corresponds directly with H.R. Giger's life-cycle.”

“What do you think?”

Hi, Skeptical Gnostic.  Very intriguing stuff.  I noted the presence of worms in the film with avid interest, and wondered about them, so your theory definitely dovetails nicely with the details of the text.

Truly, you have struck on the thing about Prometheus I love so very much: it is open-ended enough to inspire speculation on the part of the audience.   Where I have read some people complain about the fact that the film doesn’t tie up every loose end, or spoon-feed us ALL the information, I feel that many folks -- yourself included -- are absolutely inspired by the film to think about all it has to say…and all it is trying to tell us.  Who are the Engineers?  Is that Earth in the first scene?  How does the xenomorph develop in terms of a life cycle?  These are questions the film raises, but doesn’t definitively answer.

In my opinion, Prometheus is a great work of art precisely because it doesn’t fill in all the gaps, and thus leaves us the possibility (and glory) for multiple interpretations.  I certainly see no reason, right off, why your theory doesn’t fit with what we see on screen, or learn from the filmmakers. 

I last watched the film about two months ago, for the fifth time.   But rest assured, when I watch it again next (and I will…) I’ll have your thesis close at hand, and be actively considering it!

Thanks for giving me something to think about, and obsess upon, regarding one of my favorite films.

Don’t forget to ask me your questions at


  1. Anonymous7:49 AM

    I think the hammerpede as the progenitor of the classic xenomorph is absolutely correct and I am astonished that not many picked up on it. There was a deleted scene showing Milburn finding shed skin where there was snake-like trail marks left in the dirt, since there are no eggs around that shed skin clearly came from a worm shedding its skin into a hammerpede. The hammerpede is the missing link here and since the film makes such a point of showing its acid for blood and its facehugger-esque traits and behaviours I think it is pretty damn obvious. Thus, what we see with the worms are a chain of events that happened during the outbreak at the facility 2,000 years ago; the Jockeys cargo got out of control (the melting urns) and worms were infected by the mutagen and hammerpedes got loose; one or two made their way on the derelict and laid eggs which explains why the Jockey set down on LV-426.

    The evolution of the xenomorph started with worms and it explains how the xenomorph species inherited its worm-like traits; shedding skin, laying eggs...

    If you notice the xeno's less evolved cousins; the squid-esque Trilobite and the Deacon were attached by umbilical since they are 'live births', the Deacon is even attached to a placenta no less, indicating that it is not an egg layer.

  2. Anonymous8:31 AM

    Now what is also interesting is that although the hammerpede appeared to just kill Milburn from the inside (perhaps he was seen as a threat to the 'pedes that were beginning to mate)given that it is so similar to the facehugger we can't rule out that it laid an embryo inside Milburn and that embryo would later develop into the egg laying Queen. Since the 'pede is a less evolved precursor of the classic facehugger it does not have the ability to provide its host with oxygen, much like the Trilobite. Indeed, the engineer at the end of the film appeared lifeless before the Deacon burst from his chest. Thus, the classic facehugger is the next generation from the hammerpede. The following quote is from Lindelof's commentary and what is interesting is that he seems to imply that the 'pede does more than kill - " we see these little worms, which we understand is going to be the beginning...(the black goo) interacts with these worms and those worms grow into much larger and nastier worms that have the capability of infecting humans...that's track one."

    The fact that Lindelof very explicitly says that the 'pede has the capability of 'infecting' humans is very interesting, and it seems to imply more than its acid for blood, given what we see it do. I mean it knew exactly where Milburn's mouth was and targeted it very specifically. So if the 'pede did deposit an embryo in Milburn the reason we don't see it burst from his chest is due to the misdirection of the film makers but enough is implied; Milburn was orally raped. And remember, it was Milburn who commented on the dead engineers' exploded chests and if one looks closely they also have holes in their helmets. It's clear; they were attacked and infected by the 'pedes during the outbreak. The worms provide context for everything; to the worm-like new born xenos, to what passed on the egg laying, to what happened to the engineer on the derelict on LV-426. Big things have small beginnings indeed.

    Cheers, Skeptical Gnostic