“Let’s get this straight. I hate The Thing. I hate it, hate it, hate it. I think it’s the shittiest horror film ever, and John Carpenter should be ashamed of everything about it.” That was me for years up until yesterday, when I finally watched my new Amazon copy of The Thing on Blu-Ray for the first time. Now I love it, although I don’t think it’s as good as John Carpenter’s masterpiece Ghosts of Mars, obviously. I also think the late Charles Hallahan, who plays Norris here, was much better in The Pest. But here is my theory after watching it about who became infected exactly when, as people know this movie leaves infection points pretty ambiguous throughout. After all, where would the surprise element be otherwise, right?
So, here is my analytical thinkpiece about when I think each guy got infected in the film. I don’t think I need to point out that there are spoilers here, but if you haven’t seen the film and would still like the movie told to you in a rough summary, I’m happy to do that for you here.
Infectee #1: Bennings
That red-headed baldy Bennings gets it first, obviously. After the dog-Thing tries and fails to assimilate the other dogs once settling in the American base, the split-face Thing the guys found in the ice by the Norwegian base is stored away in a back room, where Bennings climbs a ladder and stuffs some shit on the shelves. Then the Thing comes alive, gets Bennings naked, and stuffs tons of tentacles through nearly every orifice in his body.
The poor guy almost winds up okay, as he manages to get away and run outside, but because his hands look all fucked up and he releases a really loud shriek of fear
his team makes the poor decision to burn him.
Infectee #2: MacReady
After Bennings is unfairly killed, Blair finds out that the Thing can take over the world and that one of the other research team members is likely infected. Blair goes batshit insane and destroys the communications equipment and helicopter, and kills all them dogs dead. After this, they lock Blair away to be bitter by himself.
After these events, MacReady is pretty much the leader now, which is weird because earlier all he wanted to do was be alone and get drunk with his chess computer, somehow not knowing that computers can’t drink and function afterward.
Later he’s all, “I am the leader dude in this group of compadres.”
I think what happened was he went into the dog kennel where all the dead dogs were, and since some of them were probably infected because of the dog-thing, he thought, “I wonder what it’s like to be a Thing, because I’m a shitty loner with low self-esteem who doesn’t like to take charge of groups, and I bet I’ll be a better leader type if I become a Thing. I want to be a Thing.” Then he ate some of the dog meat and it turned him into a Thing after he finished the meal. And voila! Now he’s leader (and boyfriend) material.
Infectee #3: Blair
MacReady, eager to infect another person that same evening, quickly turns to Blair, the one dude who knows the most about this Thing. So, he goes to his cabin, offers him some contaminated J&B and some casual sex (MacReady could be bi), the latter of which Blair flat-out rejects, and Blair is on the road to being infected. MacReady-Thing doesn’t bother to assimilate him entirely there because he’s not physically appealing enough for the consideration, and also because MacReady-Thing needs to save his energy for others.
Infectee #4: Palmer
Palmer is definitely gay, as evidenced by him lying in bed and smoking weed with Childs earlier on in the film.
He may have turned gay because he’s stuck on a base with a bunch of men, which would of course make it inevitable. Either way, I’m sure he’s also had the hots for MacReady for a while, who, let’s face it, is the best looking of the bunch apart from Childs.
So, MacReady-Thing knows this, and again, unlike his normal straighter human self would, invites Palmer into his cabin for the night, wearing only a g-string. Palmer, being both gay and unfortunately an idiot, doesn’t suspect MacReady’s a Thing, falls for Mac-Thing’s trap and winds up getting tentacle plunged until he’s a Thing.
Infectee #5: Norris
Norris has most likely been toying with the idea of being with a man, having been surrounded by them these past few months and nothing else… well, apart from dogs. But bestiality just isn’t his bag. He really wants MacReady, too. Now that MacReady’s more the leader type, Norris is really turned on. He can’t hide his feelings anymore and decides to confront MacReady when he’s got some time alone in his cabin, which is obviously becoming more of a rarity because of the whole recent Thing thing.
He probably goes up and finds MacReady-Thing standing and staring at the wall as he waits for the next day to happen and he can infect others, but surprise surprise, Norris is here. Mac opens the door after Norris knocks, and Norris confesses his feelings to a stone-faced MacReady-Thing. MacReady-Thing takes advantage of this and the two kiss, beginning cellular assimilation in Norris. The kiss is interrupted by Palmer-Thing, however, who’s actually finding himself jealous, being in an imitation of Palmer’s mind and all. The two break away when Palmer-Thing knocks on Mac’s door, and the assimilation of Norris can’t be completed right then, but will wind up happening throughout the rest of the movie.
Norris leaves the cabin feeling quite dejected, while Palmer-Thing talks about his conflicts with human emotions regarding MacReady-Thing. MacReady-Thing comforts him with a seductive smile.
The next day the group decides to do the first blood test that Dr. Copper brought up after Blair was locked away, planning on mixing the samples with uncontaminated blood to see who’s human vs. a Thing. Palmer-Thing takes care of them apples beforehand, though, and sabotages the blood before Windows checks it. MacReady-Thing is going to reward him later.
Everybody turns on each other, of course, as Garry and Dr. Copper were the only ones with keys. What nobody knows is that Palmer-Thing managed to lift a pair off of Garry when he visited him in his room, attempting to seduce him. He failed because Garry is adamantly straight, and no skin contact was made, but he did walk away with the keys to unlock the blood safe. Clever boy.
Garry is technically the leader at this point, but nobody trusts him now, so he offers the position to Norris-Thing. He turns it down, just saying, “I’m sorry, but I’m not up to it,” but it’s really because he wants MacReady-Thing to be the leader, which just gets him all hot and bothered, I guess.
So, Mac steps in after denying Childs the chance to take the position. He truly is the leader now.
MacReady-Thing also tends to make audio recordings about his findings at night, as a way to hide the fact that he’s a Thing. He mulls over a pair of long-johns that Windows found with the name tag missing, reasoning that the Thing rips through your clothes when it takes you over, when in reality it was Palmer’s, and it only came off so he and Palmer could do the horizontal tentacle tango up in his cabin. He ripped the name tag off to hide their secret regardless, of course.
Infectee #6: Fuchs
Fuchs is making all kinds of headway in the research surrounding the Thing’s biology. He determines that the team members need to eat from cans and tells this to MacReady-Thing. Unlike Palmer and Norris, Fuchs is asexual and has never had feelings for MacReady-Thing or any other thing whatsoever. MacReady-Thing, in the imitation of the real MacReady’s brain, finds this disheartening, and he resents Fuchs for it.
MacReady-Thing, upset that Fuchs doesn’t express any interest in him, decides he’ll do something that the real MacReady wouldn’t have done: scare and kill the bastard. So, he cuts the power to fuck with Fuchs, and then charges by him in the dark to scare the piss out of him.
When Fuchs steps outside, he finds MacReady’s torn up clothes with his name on the back. MacReady-Thing purposefully left them there to basically shove it in Fuchs’ face, likely thinking, “See, Fuchs? You could’ve been the one to rip through this, but no. You gotta not like me.”
Off-screen, MacReady-Thing shows to exert his aggression with a flare, but his lust for Fuchs is just too great for him to kill him, and infection is the other urge. MacReady-Thing moves in for a kiss and locks lips with him, and it’s pretty hot and heavy for MacReady-Thing as he begins to infect his partner, but then Fuchs shoves him away and declares his asexuality, which confuses MacReady-Thing, and then frustrates him to the point where he just ignites the flare and throws it on Fuchs, watching him burn.
After this, Mac goes back inside and asks if anybody saw Fuchs. They agree to split up to look for him, and Palmer-Thing expresses his lingering lust for Childs when he refuses to go with Windows instead of him. It’s clear he wants to be alone with him for some fun. He doesn’t get what he wants, though. They all go outside and find Fuchs’ burnt body, and MacReady “concludes” that Fuchs killed himself to get away from the Thing. Sly devil.
Unfortunately for Norris-Thing, his heart begins to act up later as the group tries to locate Mac upon discovering his torn clothes in the furnace.
He’s probably having a panic attack knowing that his true love is in danger of some dire consequences. The group finds him right outside the door, and then of course Norris-Thing goes into cardiac arrest as they struggle to corner him.
Copper attempts to resuscitate Norris-Thing with a defibrillator as MacReady-Thing guards himself, but it goes horribly wrong, as his stomach opens up into a toothed vagina, which is symbolic of his attempt to change in order to meet MacReady-Thing’s perceived desires.
MacReady-Thing conceals his arousal at the sight, especially at the display of strength as Norris-Thing chops Copper’s arms off and kills him, but then Norris-Thing goes through even more drastic physical changes to try and please MacReady-Thing.
MacReady-Thing, realizing his true love is for Palmer-Thing, decides to put Norris-Thing out of his misery. The humans will tear their love apart, anyway. Mac decides to kill him with the flamethrower, knowing that at least Palmer-Thing is still there for him.
When Norris-Thing’s spider head attempts to escape, Palmer-Thing brings it to Mac’s attention with, “You gotta be fucking kidding,” knowing the group will kill him, thus eliminating his romantic rival in the MacReady-Palmer-Norris-Thing love triangle. Mac blows him away, but it’s obviously difficult for him.
Infectee #7: Windows
MacReady-Thing, secretly angry at Palmer-Thing for causing Norris-Thing’s death when he had one little chance to get away and live happily, decides to get back at him by performing another blood test to identify Palmer-Thing as a Thing, this time burning each person’s blood with a hot needle. Poor Clark gets shot by MacReady-Thing before the test, though, but there was no love between them so he doesn’t matter.
While Things can actually prevent their blood from reacting to any kind of stimulus, as MacReady-Thing reveals while testing his own blood, Palmer-Thing, feeling emotionally betrayed and depressed, allows his blood to jump on command from the hot needle, and reveals his true identity.
Out of a burst of desperate anger toward his true love combined with a confused misguided lust, Palmer-Thing then aggressively grabs Windows with a tentacle, reeling him in, and gives him the wettest, most forceful French kisses/infection a man-Thing can give.
Of course, he winds up in flames, too, wandering lost outside in the cold, and blown to smithereens by his scorned lover.
MacReady-Thing then kills Windows, knowing he won’t be able to join him at this point. A sad but necessary loss.
Infectee #8: Garry
After everybody else’s blood is tested, Garry, Macready-Thing, Childs and Nauls head out to give Blair the test, but MacReady-Thing knows Blair has gone on to do greater things, as they discover the flying saucer he constructed with various scraps, and the vast underground tunnels he dug.
“He might not have had the looks,” MacReady-Thing probably thinks at that point. “But he had the resources and smarts. Maybe he would be a good match for me.”
But Childs is still left, he probably reasons. Once he infects Childs, they can be the perfect Thing item. Meanwhile, though, the group has to take care of Blair-Thing.
Garry wanders off, separating from Childs, Nauls and MacReady. He turns around and finds Blair-Thing standing there. Wanting to get away, he almost screams, but Blair-Thing quickly shuts him up by absorbing his face with his hand.
Feeling how soft his flesh is, Blair finds he likes men as well within the imitation of Blair’s previously closeted brain, which is ultimately confusing for him. He can’t get enough, though. He must find more!
Infectee #9: Nauls
After absorbing Garry completely off-screen, likely having plenty of fun doing it, Blair-Thing probably looks for Nauls, Childs and MacReady-Thing, but Childs is elsewhere doing whatever.
Meanwhile, MacReady-Thing is alone with Nauls, setting up dynamite, which is fine in MacReady-Thing’s eyes because Blair-Thing won’t make a good partner compared to Childs and possibly Nauls. After he kills Blair-Thing, he figures, he can pick from the two in an “eenie-meenie-minee-mo” fashion.
Unfortunately, Nauls disappears, and off-screen, Blair-Thing probably encounters Nauls, and while Nauls attempts to escape, Blair absorbs him so they can become one Thing, together forever physically in the best way.
He then presents himself to MacReady-Thing, offering him the chance to be together forever, but MacReady-Thing prefers human forms, I think, and denies his telepathic requests for a relationship. “Fuck you,” Blair-Thing communicates telepathically, I believe, not taking rejection well.
“Yeah, fuck you, too!” MacReady-Thing responds verbally, sealing the rejection. He can be with Childs now, the much better mate. So, he blows Blair-Thing up with dynamite and heads out into the cold to find Childs.
Infectee #10: Childs
Eventually Childs appears and rests beside MacReady-Thing in the snow. Rather than just flat-out assimilate Childs right then and there, MacReady-Thing decides he likes the process of steady seduction, and playfully tells him, “If we’ve got any surprises for each other, I don’t think we’re in much shape to do anything about it.” He also adds, “Why don’t we wait around here for a little while, see what happens?”
It’s then that MacReady-Thing passes his J&B bottle to Childs, who takes a long swig from the contaminated beverage, planting the seeds of infection.
MacReady-Thing can finally feel content in knowing he can be with somebody, a true Thing partner in a cold, cold world. They may not make it together here in Antarctica, but they’ll be forever together in the cosmos, connected through thousands upon thousands of species, like zoologically star-crossed lovers. Whether or not they propagate beyond that icy continent doesn’t matter at this point, because they have achieved togetherness.
I’ve heard the argument that The Thing is a metaphor for AIDS, and I think I can finally understand why, having gone over who was infected and when. There’s clearly a heavy homoerotic love-story undertone that’s been unexplored, but I think I’ve opened the doors to that possibility enough here.
It truly is a masterpiece, after all.