Law & Order season 21 is finally happening eleven and a half years later, but if it doesn’t feature Linus Roache returning to his role as Executive Assistant District Attorney Michael Cutter, it won’t be worth the wait.
NBC announced this week that the cornerstone procedural is returning as a midseason show next year with Chicago PD and FBI showrunner Rick Eid in charge, and media reports say the network is courting old cast members to come back and reprise their roles. Sam Waterston is allegedly on top of the list as Jack McCoy, but Roache as Cutter has to be number two.
Roache was like a lightning rod when he joined Law & Order in season 18, injecting a new and intense energy into the back half of the show. He commanded attention in a dignified way, much like Michael Moriarty did as original Executive Assistant District Attorney Ben Stone. But just like McCoy came along and pushed the envelope, Cutter did that on steroids. There was a constant unpredictability to him; you never quite knew what he was going to do, or even necessarily why he was doing it. You just knew that you could trust him, and you went along for the ride.
Cutter was playing chess while everyone else was playing checkers. That included McCoy, who moved up to be District Attorney during the last three seasons. Understandably after a lengthy career of prosecuting, McCoy was more jaded and his promotion meant he had to also be more bureaucratic. Cutter never lost that boundless ferocity of a rookie prosecutor, even though he’d been around for awhile. He pushed McCoy to not be consumed by the political machine, and McCoy had to temper him. The characters had a great push-pull dynamic. Possibly because you could never imagine Cutter being District Attorney. He would lose his mind.
He’s too much fun as a character, and played by too great of an actor, not to bring him back if Roache is available and willing to come around again.
Law & Order season 21 would also serve as an important do-over for Michael Cutter. The character made a few appearances on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, in an effort to keep a great protagonist in the fold by moving them to SVU (an idea that would repeat itself years later after Chicago Justice with Peter Stone).
But just like Stone, the way Cutter was written on SVU never serviced his character. He had moved positions to become a Bureau Chief and his personality completely shifted. Perhaps it was because that wasn’t his show, but the writing blunted his edge and never captured his personality. Instead of writing scenes for Michael Cutter, we got scenes that could have been filled by any generic Bureau Chief that just happened to be Cutter.
Bringing him back is an opportunity to reset in that respect. It’s also a great chance to see what Roache does next. He was always pushing the character forward, keeping Cutter in motion, the same way that Cutter pushed everybody around him. (It was sometimes like you could see the wheels turning in Cutter’s head.) Ten years is a long time to be away from a character, during which he’s played some different roles, like White House Chief of Staff David Wellington in Showtime’s Homeland and King Ecbert in History’s Vikings. You know he’s going to come with fresh ideas.
Will the series pick up in real time, a decade later? If so, who is Cutter ten years on? Law & Order doesn’t dig into characters’ personal lives in the way other Dick Wolf shows do so we’re not likely to get (nor should we) any big reveals. But he may have changed ideologically. He might have learned some new tricks. And if Alana de la Garza also returns for season 21—which hopefully she will, since Rick Eid also runs FBI—maybe he’ll finally act on his feelings for Connie Rubirosa. That was one of the rare TV pairings where it genuinely felt like they belonged together without it being pre-written that way.
Linus Roache is a massive asset to any series. It would be almost disrespectful to not invite him back to Law & Order with what he gave to the show and everything he could bring to it again. And it would be a whole lot quieter without Michael Cutter, which wouldn’t be fun at all. Let’s cross our fingers and hope that Cutter is part of Law & Order season 21, either making McCoy crazy or carrying on and making him proud. (Or both. With him it could be both.)
Law & Order season 21 reportedly premieres in midseason 2022.
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