Carter J. Burke was an executive employed under the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, serving as Special Projects Director for Weyland-Yutani (Space) Corp's Special Services Division. He acted as a liaison to Ellen Ripley after she had been rescued from deep space in 2179. Burke later accompanied a platoon of Colonial Marines on board the USS Sulaco to LV-426, the moon where Ripley had first encountered the Xenomorph species, to investigate the loss of contact with the colony of Hadley's Hope.
Burke was the first person to acquaint himself with Warrant Officer Ripley after her fifty-seven years in hypersleep. Burke filled Ripley in on the years she missed out on. He also informs Ellen that her daughter Amanda Ripley-McClaren, died of old age two years earlier. The company officials, including Burke himself, confronted Ripley regarding her decision to self-destruct the Nostromo 57 years earlier. Chairman Van Leuwen dismissed her claims of the existence of a derelict spacecraft and a hostile organism, demoted her to the rank of Lieutenant and also had her flight license revoked. Burke befriended Ripley on her stay at the Gateway Station and became a familiar and friendly face to her.
Having learned of the derelict spacecraft's location from Ripley's claims, Burke contacted the terraforming colony Hadley's Hope on LV-426 with instructions to locate it. Surveyers Russ and Anne Jorden found the derelict, but in doing so they caused the eggs stored in the spacecraft's hull to hatch and Russ was attacked by a facehugger. The colony was soon overrun by xenomorph.
Mission to LV-426
Burke came to Ripley's apartment with an offer to help regain her flight license in return for her accompanying Burke and a squad of Marines to LV-426 to investigate the loss of contact with Hadley's Hope. After initially turning him down flat, she then changed her mind and agreed to the mission.
Burke served as one of the civilian advisors on the mission along with Ripley to safeguard the company's investment in the terraforming colony. Burke joined the marines when they went planet side and stayed either near Lieutenant Gorman or in the APC while the marines searched the colony and deemed specific points safe. Burke sided with Ripley against Gorman when she pointed out that the marines' weapons could rupture the station's cooling system and cause a thermo nuclear reaction, meaning the troops were unable to use their most effective weapons. He witnessed the marines being slaughtered by the Xenomorphs via the APC monitors. Only Corporal Dwayne Hicks, and Privates Hudson and Vasquez survived the assault.
However, when Ripley suggested they take off and nuke the site from orbit, Burke took the opposite view, pointing out the colony's substantial value. He also reasoned, against Ripley and Vasquez, the Alien's importance as a species and that they did not have the right to exterminate them. Hicks, in nominal command due to Gorman being knocked unconscious, also backed Ripley. Burke was outvoted and the others agreed to go through with Ripley's plan.
Betrayal & Fate
Ripley learned that it was Burke who had sent the colonists to the derelict spacecraft without warning them about the alien and confronted him about it. Burke would subsequently betray Ripley and the Marines, as a captured alien would have great potential for research and bioweapons, which would make him rich and earn him a lucrative promotion. He specifically targeted Ripley and Newt and attempted to get them impregnated by locking them in a room with a pair of face huggers. In order to avoid alerting anyone else he turned off the monitor where the security camera was focused on. His plan was foiled after Ripley triggered the smoke detector and the Marines rescued her. She then exposed Burke, revealing that the only way he could smuggle an alien specimen through quarantine was if it was still inside a living host, her and Newt. She also speculated that he was going to sabotage the marines cryochambers in order to kill the marines, and jettison their bodies and 'make-up any story he liked'.
The Marines resolved to kill Burke but were interrupted by the aliens approaching the medlabs. In the chaos, Burke escaped and sealed himself off from the pursuing marines. An alien then attacked him from behind and presumably took him back to the hive to be impregnated.
Personality & Traits
Burke was a selfish, ruthless, greedy, and manipulative person. for his own needs on the investigation mission. He manipulated Ripley into giving him the coordinates to the Derelict Spacecraft on LV-426 and won her trust by playing the empathetic friend. Burke also had no qualms about ordering the colonists to investigate the craft without warning them about the alien species, which led to the death of most of the colonists; trying to impregnate Ripley and Newt with Xenomorphs, or (according to Ripley) sabatoging the cryotubes of the other survivors to cover his tracks. even by his collegues at Weyland-Yutani, they lamented that Burke was "executive material".
Behind the Scenes
Deleted death scene
Originally, Burke's fate in Aliens was less ambiguous — as she searched the Hive for Newt near the end of the film, Ripley found Burke cocooned to the wall, still alive and impregnated with a Chestburster. He tells her he can feel the embryo moving inside him, and begs her to kill him. Ripley does not, but leaves him a grenade so that he may end his own suffering. While the meeting between the two was cut, the explosion of the grenade (off-screen) is still in the film — it is the fiery blast that blocks Ripley's path after she frees Newt, forcing them to head deeper into the Hive where they discover the Queen.
The scene was mainly cut because director James Cameron realized that, given the time frame of the film, Burke would still have had a Facehugger attached to him by the time Ripley enters the Hive. Despite this, it still appeared in the novelization of the film and the comic adaptation Aliens: Newt's Tale. The movie footage was released for the first time as a bonus feature on the 2010 Alien Anthology Blu-ray set.
- Burke does not exist at all in the original treatment for Aliens. Most of his dialogue while aboard Gateway Station was instead taken by a character called Dr. O'Neil, who was cut from the finished film. With Burke's absence, the sub-plot regarding Weyland-Yutani attempting to obtain Xenomorph specimens from LV-426 was also not present in the initial script, as there is no corporate agent accompanying the Marines to the colony.
- The novelization of Aliens has Ripley come across Burke while searching for Newt, but he has already been impregnated, and tells her that he can feel it moving inside him. Ripley gives him a grenade and helps him prime it before continuing on. There's also a deleted film scene of this. While very interesting, it's probably best deleted simply because there wasn't enough time for full impregnation to have occurred.
- The novelization of Alien 3 suggests Burke is actually operating alone and on his own initiative in Aliens, and not carrying out company orders (at least not specifically).