David Wellington’s journey ended in Sunday’s Homeland series finale, but if you looked close enough at the arc his character took in the final season of the Showtime series, you might see more than a bit of Michael Cutter.
It’s not solely because that’s the role Linus Roache played on Law & Order in its series finale almost a decade ago. While they share the same actor, looking at who Wellington is and where “Prisoners of War” left him, they also share a common character arc. Our last glimpse of Wellington is like looking at Cutter if the last decade had sent him right instead of left somewhere.
For those who need a refresher: Roache put on one of the great performances of the last decade as Cutter, the engagingly maverick Executive Assistant District Attorney who was playing chess with every single prosecution. No one ever knew what he was going to do, including the viewers, making him a variable inside a fairly by-the-numbers procedural. It was a joy to watch Roache create a character who was the antithesis of the show that he was on, and to this day his three seasons still hold up.
David Wellington, on the other hand, would never be described as such a live wire. For the two seasons in which we’ve known him, he’s been a much more guarded character. He’s never felt like this is where he was supposed to be, and particularly in Homeland season 8, the audience has seen the weight of the nation on his shoulders. Wellington has taken his own emotional journey that puts him diametrically opposite from Cutter, but he feels now like they could have started in the same place.
What was great about Michael Cutter was that he felt like he was born to be where he was. That fighting for justice wasn’t just his job or his passion, but something embedded in his DNA. Roache made him truly come alive in this instinctual, visceral way, originating from a place of emotion and power rather than the cold facts of good guys versus bad guys or procedural blueprints. Watching Cutter in the courtroom, viewers didn’t just see him prosecuting cases; we felt that energy and felt that somebody was out there fighting the good fight.
David Wellington, however, took the completely opposite path. As Roache has pointed out, his character never intended to pursue a career in civil service, let alone become the White House Chief of Staff. He served out of loyalty to then-President Elizabeth Keane, and even attempted to turn in his resignation in Homeland season 7. But Keane wouldn’t let him quit, and so Wellington became a survivor, staying on in the Warner and Hayes administrations because he wanted to make a difference.
Think about that for a second: this man gave up a successful career and altered the course of his entire life out of loyalty to one person, and then he stayed when he had every right and reason to run, out of loyalty to his country. That is a huge sacrifice, essentially twice over. Wellington may have gotten into the game for a very personal reason, but over two-plus seasons he developed a sense of broader purpose. After all, someone had to save President Hayes from himself.
Homeland took David Wellington from possible antagonist to reluctant hero and then, in season 8, to definitive hero. It was hard to make heads or tails of him in the beginning but he wound up working actively with Saul Berenson to keep Hayes under control with a whip and a chair, doing everything in his power and a few things outside of his job description to keep the United States from engaging in a needless war. Wellington rose to become Saul’s primary political ally, which was a far cry from the man who visited Saul in prison during the Homeland season 7 premiere.
He found himself over the journey that he took. Over three administrations, a whole lot of upheaval, and a broken heart, he lost a lot – but that also gave him clarity. Remember the season 7 episode “Andante,” when Keane refused to accept Wellington’s resignation and told him that he was needed? She was referring to within her administration, but it wasn’t just that. In picking up the pieces after her resignation, in fighting with Hayes and with John Zabel (a pitch-perfect Hugh Dancy), Wellington found the other reason why he was needed. Someone had to be the voice of reason. Someone had to dare to do better. And he, finally, wasn’t just trying to be that someone; he was that someone.
And so, in that sense, he became the next iteration of Michael Cutter. When Hayes came to his senses, dismissed Zabel and put his trust in Wellington, David became the hero of his own story. He defeated the damning ideology represented by Zabel and he would be the one to help lead the country forward. Even in his last major scene, calling the cops as he realized something was wrong with Saul, Wellington mattered; he was being proactive and doing something for the greater good.
Michael Cutter was born to fight, and then got knocked down and jaded when he returned for a few Law & Order: Special Victims Unit appearances (a discussion for another time). David Wellington took the opposite track, going from jaded, reluctant and kind of uncertain to ending Homeland as someone Michael Cutter would be proud of. Someone for whom the best is yet to come. And there’s something great about that.
Homeland is now available through Showtime on Demand and the series finale will re-air throughout the week; check your local listings for air times.