When James Cameron’s Aliens blasted onto the big screen with pulse rifles blazing in 1986, the sci-fi blockbuster burrowed its way into our hearts — before gruesomely bursting out of chest cavities — thanks in large part to the ill-fated but unquestionably badass Colonial Marines. And for many of us who watched Aliens years before we decided to enlist, it was Pfc. William Hudson who made a lasting impression, by showing what belligerence looked like before we even felt it ourselves.
The scene takes place aboard the USS Solaco shortly after the Marines and their civilian advisers — a skeezy Wayland Corporation bureaucrat played by Paul Reiser, and Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley — wake up from cryosleep and assemble for their pre-mission brief.
In Hudson, played by the late Bill Paxton, American theatergoers got a portrait of the quintessential cantankerous Marine: A terminal private first class nearing the end of his contract who, frankly, is too short for this bullshit.
After vaguely laying out the mission — it’s a bug hunt — the new lieutenant opens the floor to questions. But after you’ve told a bunch of underpaid grunts who already have a low opinion of you that they’ll be putting down on a backwater colony to look for lost colonists — and possibly come face-to-face with aliens that gestate in living hosts and have acid for blood —it’s not surprising that Hudson responds by asking: “How do I get out of this chickenshit outfit?”
Predictably, he’s immediately told to “secure that shit.”
With a single sarcastic question, Hudson channeled a wellspring of rank-and-file angst and frustration — and because enlistment contracts work both ways, he directed it right back at the higher-ups, as if to say: “What the hell can they do to me anyway? Send me to Afghani- err, LV-426?”
More than just comedic relief, Hudson served a specific purpose: He provided the audience with a cathartic release, as James Cameron pointed out during the 2016 Aliens reunion at Comic-Con. Every time the tension reached a fever pitch, Hudson would toss in a quip or lose his shit, and in doing so, bring in a few laughs.
At the panel, Paxton described his character “as kind of a pressure release valve,” with Cameron explaining that this gave audiences “the ability to laugh and it releases the tension so it can build back up again.”
If the idea of using humor to defuse tension sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a mainstay of military life. With all the crummy work details and endless rules (some legit and others bullshit) and the incredibly high stakes that come with wartime service, moments of levity, gallows humor, and yes, belligerence makes it all bearable. Sometimes, you just need to call an asshole an asshole, and who better to do it than the guy who has zero fucks left to give, and can’t actually get fired for mouthing off?
So next time the CO asks if you have any saved rounds, think about taking a page from Hudson’s playbook — assuming you plan on EASing soon, and don’t intend to do anything other than mop the squad bay and police call the quad over the weekend. Your squadmates will thank you for saying what they were all thinking: How do I get out of this chickenshit outfit?