Charmed season 3, originally aired in 2000-01, was significant for two main reasons – ADA Cole Turner/Balthazor played by Australian actor Julian McMahon was introduced as a new main character to the series and by the end of the series Shannen Doherty would leave the show. Reportedly, the reason for her departure was because of tensions between Doherty and co-star Alyssa Milano. That might not come as a shock to fans of her previous show Beverly Hills 90210 – which she left after 4 seasons due to reported tension with costars.
So the season sees a main character in Cole / Balthazor, who is a half human-half demon, sent by The Triad to destroy the sisters. In the process of befriending the sisters and Leo, Cole starts a relationship with Pheobe, initially to separate her from the other two but instead he falls in love with her and is unable to carry out his mission. Prue is looking for balance in her life, juggling her photography, her role as a Charmed one, and her love life. Piper and Leo’s relationship becomes serious as they plan to get married against the wishes of The Elders. Their romance is a constant theme in season 3 and finally they do get married – albeit after a major mess courtesy Prue.
Most of the first half of the season centers on Cole/Belthazor forcing his way into The Charmed Ones’ lives by initiating a romance with Phoebe. As he struggles with his conflict between his duty and his love for her, Prue is extremely suspicious of Cole from the beginning, causing a rift between her and her youngest sister. The romance between them is responsible for a lot of cornyness in the show just like Piper’s & Leo’s problems but the show does get a lot more interesting because of the conflict. Anyways, their father also comes back into their lives and gets involved in one of the episodes. And here is one of my issues with the show – Prue is opening antagonistic towards their father as he left them when the sisters were very young. So while Piper & Phoebe in particular are glad for him being back in their life, Prue has reservations. However this all instantly vanishes – while in a demonic relm, she is getting sucked into she calls out “Daddy” and he grabs her and pulls her back. Instantly she is now daddy’s girl! So cheesy!
The Charmed Ones begin to discover and understand the hierarchy of the underworld, as they learn of The Triad who are responsible for sending Belthazor and various other demons after them. Unable to kill Balthazor/Cole, Phoebe fakes his death to her sisters, so he can continue to live on, although in secret as he has to hide from the demons. Cole decides to follow his heart & his human side and joins the Charmed ones in their fight. Prue, growing weary of her battles to save innocents and in fighting off the Angel of Death, is forced to turn her back on a dying soul, and must come to grips with her feelings towards fate and the death of her mother. In the season finale Prue and Piper bring a doctor to the manor, to protect him from a powerful demonic assassin named Shax, who was sent by The Source. When Shax breaks into the manor, he throws Prue and Piper through a wall, causing them to almost die, until Leo arrives with enough time to heal them. Phoebe uses a vanquishing spell on Shax but it does not kill him. While searching for Shax out in the streets, Prue and Piper are caught on live television using their powers, thus exposing themselves as witches. As a crowd forms around their house, a mentally unstable girl, claiming to want to join The Charmed Ones’ coven, breaks in, only to be thrown out by Prue. In retaliation, the girl shoots Piper from outside. The Source, knowing about Piper, strikes a deal with Cole that if he can get Phoebe to stay in the underworld, he will have Tempus the demon reset time, thus saving Piper.
It is only in the 4th season opener that we learn that when Shax attacks them, Phoebe is unable to interfere and both of her sisters get injured close to death. Leo is unable to save Prue so Phoebe is saved and lives.