I don't want to spoil anyone unawares, or take away the amazing, precious chance to watch it again as if for the first time! I do love third season on its own terms. But. Third season hurts. I know people still bleeding from it. Perhaps a little virtual armor should be available, if one wishes to don it? Spoilers ahoy! If spoilers for what third season often wields against us are what you want, putting it very briefly, my take:
Tiny Spoilers: Before Third Season Began
FK changed owners between second and third seasons. The new owners at the USA cable network had a different vision from the previous leadership in syndication (second season) or at the CBS broadcast network (first season). It was reportedly proposed that Cohen, Schanke, Janette and Natalie all be removed from the series. Catherine Disher's job was saved, but John Kapelos's, Natsuko Ohama's and Deborah Duchene's were not. The buzz was that they wanted a "younger, sexier" cast.
(I wonder what that alternate reality would have been, that vision of no Natalie, as well as no Schanke, Cohen or Janette. What did they have in mind? Nick on the road followed by Lacroix would make sense, but I don't think their budget would have supported changing sets every week. The idea of Nick in Toronto alone but for Lacroix makes me recoil.)
Major Spoilers: Early Third Season As Aired
Schanke is dead. Janette has left. Lacroix has taken over the Raven and, apparently, lost his pride, taste and ability to see in color (see "Lacroix Lite"). Sets and costuming show a different design sense and, arguably, the different budget. Characters are all frequently unhappy, except Tracy, who earns a reputation for perkiness (thus her faction's name, as much as the coffee reference, I think) by contrast. Reese, Tracy, Vachon, Screed, Urs and the others are welcome, but it can be tough going at first, learning where they will fit.
"Night in Question" was considered the end of the "early third season" run, as I used to see it discussed, happily received as a turning point toward increasing quality, when the big changes have shaken out and begun to click.
Overwhelming Spoilers: Late Third Season As Aired
Lacroix has recovered his equilibrium and dignity and, to some extent, his wardrobe. Vachon is no longer in the opening credits. Natalie and Nick are both sliding slowly downhill from trauma to trauma, occasionally arrested by a happy ending before stepping off the next cliff. Tracy, now plagued by unhappiness like everyone else, shows the grit that inspires her "Dark Perks." Janette returns in an episode buffeted by competing interpretations of what exactly happened and just exactly how it happened, on top of which some of us thought (until corrected by our peers) that a major character had died here, too. But people do start dying, with Screed, and keep on dying right to the end, blow after blow, as we lose, among recurring characters, Fleur, then Urs, then Vachon, then Divia, then Tracy, then Natalie and then Nick. If Lacroix goes, too, at that point, well -- many a fanfic.
Some people count various late third season episodes among the best crafted in the series. Some people love the ending, for exemplifying something they enjoy or artistically fulfilling the whole of the season, or even the series. Many more, frankly, hate it, either for celebrating a theme they reject, or for missing the mark on another theme, or straightforwardly for the battering losses of beloved characters.
So, yeah. Third season has sharp edges. It also has shine and luster and depth of its own. Handle with care. Then go back and watch first season again! ;-) And write fanfiction to share your opinion of it all. :-)
Addendum November 8, 2012: This post is getting so many spams that I've had to lock commenting. If you'd like to discuss it for real, please comment on Dreamwidth or contact me privately. Sorry!
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