MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!
If you're a fan of the series and don't know how Season Three of McLeod's Daughters ends, I suggest you stop reading this review, and just buy the 8-disc box set, McLeod's Daughters: The Complete Third Season from Koch Vision. It's a great serial from Australia, and if you've seen the previous two seasons' episodes, you have to see how this one wraps up. But after the picture below, I'm spilling the beans, because...well...it's just shocking, and I have to talk about it.
They killed off Claire??? What the hell? I've reviewed the first two seasons of the smash-hit Aussie soap, but I certainly didn't see this coming. Whatever were the producers thinking? After watching the death episode, I went on-line and discovered that the actress playing Claire, Lisa Chappell, wanted to move on to other things, but did they have to kill off the character? How about leaving the door open just a crack for the character by having her leave the ranch or get married or something other than dumping her at the bottom of a ravine? She could have come back, even as a guest shot. And don't give me that crap about "realism." I don't want realism from McLeod's Daughters - and I certainly don't want to be totally bummed out, either.
Now when I reviewed the first season of McLeod's Daughters, I was a little grumpy about the results. I had enjoyed the TV movie that inspired the series (included on that DVD set), but I felt the producers and writers had dropped the ball translating it into a weekly show. The second season played much better for me, and I realized what an attractive, escapist series it was, despite the occasionally heavy subplot. The well-known, laid-back Aussie temperament went a long way towards balancing out some of the more sticky moments. But here, in this third season, what I am I to do with Claire, the best looking chick on the show and hands-down the audience favorite, getting killed off? It's like Henry Blake and M*A*S*H all over again.
I guess I wouldn't mind the loss of a major character so much if it had been anyone else - even if had been Bridie Carter's Tess, the other feisty daughter of Jack McLeod. But there was just something about Chappell's character that was so compelling, so different than most women on most soaps, that I can't imagine the show will be the same without her (when I was looking up the history behind her leaving the series, I read that the show has indeed carried on quite well in the ratings without her, but that loyal fans feel the show changed for the worse). First of all, she was such a feisty, ballsy woman, who had a tough-as-nails approach to running a rough-and-tumble horse ranch out in the unforgiving Australian bush. Despite the cliched stereotype of guys being afraid of such women, a lot of us like that kind of "man's woman" (like the tough old Hollywood broads like Susan Hayward, or Maureen O'Hara, or Bette Davis). And she seemed utterly incapable of finding happiness with a man - usually because she was so much better than the lunkhead studs who came sniffing around (providing plenty of opportunites for the men watching to say, "Hey, I could tame her."). Combine that with the fact that Chappell's a total babe, and you've got a pretty good reason for tuning in to the show each week.
Other big events happen during this third season of McLeod's Daughters, including Tess'ever-increasingly complex relationship with Nick, as well as a cancer scare, Claire has her baby, Alex learns of his true parentage, Jodi dumps that Italian dreamboat Alberto, and Becky finds out what really happened to Brick. But all of that is just...nothing when you factor in the knowledge that Claire is dead, man. There's such a family feeling created with McLeod's Daughters that I just know I'm not going to be into it for the later seasons. Claire's "replacement," Stevie (Simmone Mackinnon) is fine, with an admirable wrong-side-of-the-tracks look and feel, but what can I say? She's just not Claire.
All the tech credits are up to par here this third season, with the Aussie countryside frequently caught in spectacularly attractive vistas. The direction and writing by this third season is smooth and assured, with the production team obviously in a groove on how to craft solid soap episodes. Claire's final moments in particular, are expertly handled, with an admirable sense of ever-tightening pace to the editing. I can't say I was wild about the cliche of having Claire come back as a ghost to talk Tess through her mourning, but any chance to see Chappell (who's just as ornery a ghost as she was alive) I suppose, is welcome.
Here are the 30, one-hour episodes of the eight-disc box set, McLeod's Daughters: The Complete Third Season, as described on their hardcase back covers:
Episode 45 - Fairy Tale, Ending
Claire returns home to Drovers Run and must face the truth about her baby's father. On top of that, she feels the baby move for the first time, forcing her to deal with the emotional reality of her situation.
Episode 46 - Better the Devil You Know
Claire and Alex's lie about the baby causes a major rift between Claire and Tess. Meanwhile, Jodi returns from overseas and is clearly unhappy to be back.
Episode 47 - The Road Home
Becky's search for Brick comes to an end and Jodi's dreams for a big wedding create tension throughout. Claire also worries about the health of her baby.
Episode 48 - An Affair to Forget
Mistrust runs rampant as Tess believes Sally is cheating on Nick, while Alberto calls off the wedding after discovering Jodi had a fling overseas.
Episode 49 - Put to the Test
At Jodi's hens night, a shocking game of truth or dare reveals far more than was intended. Meanwhile, a pregnant Claire decides to start riding again.
Episode 50 - The Wedding
Unexpected events result in an unlikely outcome on Jodi and Alberto's much anticipated wedding day as a storm knocks out the power and allows the sheep to escape.
Episode 51 - Gone to the Dogs
When Becky and Jake are forced to steal a horse, they find new depths to their relationship. Alex is dismayed when Claire starts buying old nags from the salesyards.
Episode 52 - The Ghost of Things to Come
Claire discovers a hidden treasure which brings back ghostly memories of her mother and unleashes a gnawing fear that she too will die in childbirth.
Episode 53 - A House of Cards
A thirtieth wedding anniversary is no protection for Liz when Harry, suspicious about Claire's baby, discovers an even bigger lie.
Episode 54 - Three Little Words
As Harry and Alex battle each other, Tess finds it hard to resist her attraction to Dave, the vet. Meanwhile, an argument between Becky and Kylie results in an injury to Star.
Episode 55 - Repeat Offenders
When a heartbroken journalist friend of Tess comes to Drovers Run, the private lives of all the women - and their men - become very public.
Episode 56 - Sins of the Father.
Becky and Jake's relationship is tested when his real background is revealed, causing shockwaves which impact everyone at Drovers Run.
Episode 57 - Jokers to the Right
The charade of being the father of Claire's baby causes Alex problems - especially when Sandra Kinsella appears on the scene.
Episode 58 - Chain Reaction
Jodi discards a chain letter and misfortune strikes Drovers. When a recently deceased sheep is discovered, Jodi is tipped over the edge, thinking she's unleashed a curse.
Episode 59 - The Awful Truth
Nick and Alex must face the awful truth about Harry's new girlfriend as they argue over his proposal for a stock route through Drover's Run.
Episode 60 - Seeing the Light
The appearance of mysterious Min Min lights over Drovers Run coincides with life altering events for Clair and Tess.
Episode 61 - A Slight Interruption
Claire is challenged by the demands of her newborn baby. Stricken by cabin fever, she struggles to balance motherhood with running Drovers.
Episode 62 - Old Beginnings
Peter's return to Drovers Run during the naming ceremony of his and Claire's baby daughter, leads to a very important decision about his future with not only his wife, but also with Claire.
Episode 63 - Where There's Smoke
When Nick is called to a domestic emergency he gets trapped on the roof of Beth Martin's home. Jodi proves herself to him by overcoming her fears and climbing to his aid.
Episode 64 - Perfect Match
Becky and Jake set up a stud on Drovers, going into partnership with Claire and Tess for the use of their land and reputation. Claire finds it hard not to be involved, especially when Jake wants to do business with people she does not approve of.
Episode 65 - Let the Best Man Win
Alex and Nick come to the rescue of an attractive woman, Ellie, when her car breaks down on a country road. Almost instantly, they're competing for her affection, and the lead shifts from one to the other as each shines with his own charm.
Episode 66 - Majority Rules
Jodi has accepted a casual date with Nick, but the trouble is, she doesn't know how much he likes her and in what way. Claire also has relationship problems of her own with Alex.
Episode 67 - The Ties That Bind
Jodi, still confused about Nick, seeks advice from Dave, who suggests she get naked underneath a long coat and give Nick the surprise of his life. When Tess learns of Jodi's plans she finds herself surprisingly possessive of Nick.
Episode 68 - One Step at a Time
Harry's fears of losing Alex to Bryce have caused him to grow generous, bringing over equipment he thinks the boys might need. Nick, meanwhile, has unconfirmed suspicions that something is wrong with Tess.
Episode 69 - Time Frames
Jodi thinks she has a secret admirer when a bouquet of flowers is left on the steps of the shearer's quarters. She's even more thrilled when another gift arrives with a note attached asking to meet.
Episode 70 - Body Language
After Harry breaks up with Sandra, she commits a desperate act to win him back. Much to everyone's chagrin, Harry is more flattered than furious and decides to give Sandra one more chance.
Episode 71 - To Catch a Thief
When Claire and Tess encounter some cattle illegally grazing, Claire is thrilled to discover that the woman mustering them is an old mate, Stevie. Tess, however, is not so thrilled when she realizes that the two have a past together.
Episode 72 - My Noon, My Midnight
Tess anxiously awaits the results of her lumpectomy pathology tests, and tries to put on a brave face as the moment of truth draws near. When a white stallion appears on Drovers Run, Tess takes it as a sign that her time is nearly up.
Episode 73 - The Long Goodbye
Tess tries to keep her emotions in check, unable to deal with her grief over Claire's sudden death. During the eulogies, Tess finally understands that she has to let go of Claire and move on.
Episode 74 -- Turbulence
Stevie confesses she has a daughter, Rose, who lives with her sister. Tess, realizing she might have misjudged her, decides to give her a second chance.
The anamorphically enhanced, 1.78:1 widescreen video image for McLeod's Daughters: The Complete Third Season is sparkling, as usual. Colors are nicely hued and balanced, and the picture is razor sharp. No compression issues popped up.
The Dolby Digital English 2.0 stereo audio mix is entirely adequate for this largely dialogue-driven series. There are no subtitles or close-captions available.
There are no extras for McLeod's Daughters: The Complete Third Season.
They killed off Claire??? Why? I can't imagine the show is going to be as good in the later seasons, but I'll give it a try, because the producers really have crafted a fine, entertaining series in this Aussie soap. The acting, writing, and direction are still top-notch here, but seriously -- Chappell leaving puts a major bummer on the whole mood of this third season. And the series. I highly recommend McLeod's Daughters: The Complete Third Season.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.