There are many ways to describe last night's series finale of Angel. Heart-wrenching (Wes kicked the bucket! And died in Illyria/Fred's arms!), action-packed (that Angel vs. Hamilton throwdown), hilarious (Spike reading his terrible love poem — which all die-hard fans know we first heard in the fifth season of Buffy — to a rapt audience of tough guys) and thrilling (the final charge before the closing credits) all fit the bill. But whatever you do, don't call it a cliffhanger, even if Angel and his surviving crew were still fighting as the episode ended.

"The word 'cliffhanger' is really a misnomer here," series co-creator Joss Whedon stresses to TV Guide Online. "This was not the final grace note after a symphony, the way the Buffy finale was. We are definitely still in the thick of it [at the end]. But the point of the show is that you're never done; no matter who goes down, the fight goes on.

"Did I end it this way so that it could lead into an exciting sixth season? Yes, but this is still a final statement, if that's what it needs to be."

Ah, but was this episode actually the "final statement" for the beloved Buffy and Angel universe? Rumors have been rampant about a spinoff show or a series of made-for-TV movies popping up within the next year. According to Whedon, however, nothing will happen anytime soon. "The TV-movie idea was suggested," he says. "And the studio said they'd be interested in that, but I haven't heard bupkes since then."

It's not as if Whedon has the time to devote to another Angel-related project right now, anyway. In June, he starts production on Serenity, the feature-film version of his short-lived Fox series, Firefly. It's due out in 2005. He's also penning 12 issues of the new Marvel Comics title Astonishing X-Men, the first of which hits comic-book stores next Wednesday.

Still, Whedon says he's not closing the door entirely on the Buffyverse. For one thing, he's been talking with Dark Horse Comics about reviving the canceled Buffy comic book and possibly making it a permanent part of the Buffy canon. He also says he had many more stories to tell about the Angel crew — citing the sexy character of Illyria, in particular, as someone he wished to spend more time with. "The cancellation was a horrible blow," he admits. "Basically, we were told that we were old and in the way, [even though] ratings were higher than what they'd been."

Whedon takes some comfort in knowing Angel aficionados feel the same way. "I was enormously touched by the fan response," he says. "For them to react that strongly to what had always been perceived as the bastard child of the Buffy franchise was really important to me.

"I think the show was cut down in its prime," Whedon laments. "I do feel like we finished the series off saying what I wanted to say in a grand fashion. But I don't have the feeling I had with Buffy, which is, 'We are done. Thank you, goodnight.' It's more, 'Okay, the lights are off, I'd better leave.'"

For Whedon, what makes the end even harder is that he'd already conceived a terrific premise for Angel's sixth year. "When you buck the system, and do your best to make it collapse," he teases, "what if it does? The next season would have been some serious chaos." Now, that sounds like a story that deserves to be told someday.