Bloody hell! This bites! This sucks! Whichever vampire pun you choose to express your feelings on the subject, the sad fact remains: Sarah Michelle Gellar will not be resurrecting Buffy the Vampire Slayer for Angel's swan song after all. As foreshadowed in this week's issue of TV Guide magazine (on sale now), the in-demand actress' busy schedule was a deal-breaker. But that's only half of the story.

You see, Gellar wasn't asked to appear in the series finale, she was invited to return for the third-to-last episode (airing May 5). Unfortunately, when that hour was being shot, she was in Tokyo working on the supernatural horror film The Grudge and, obviously, quite unavailable. However, she was free to pick up stakes in the spin-off's capper (airing May 19). So why isn't she doing that installment? Executive producer Joss Whedon didn't want Angel's send-off to "revolve around a guest star," he says simply. "We will deal with the issue of Buffy and how much she means to Angel and Spike, but I want to end the show with the people who've been in the trenches together, the characters who have lived — and occasionally died — together... the regulars."

Whedon's Angel partner, Jeffrey Bell, adds that the idea of building the finale around the long-running Angel/Buffy/Spike love triangle "seemed to undermine the bigger picture. [So Gellar was left off the roster] in the same way that David Boreanaz wasn't involved in the series finale of Buffy." (Editor's Note: Boreanaz did in fact appear in Buffy's last episode; his penultimate cameo carried over into the first five minutes of the finale.)

Before you start sharpening Mr. Pointy and aiming it at the execs' hearts, you should know that, despite their well-thought-out rationale, at the point when they learned Gellar was free to participate in Angel's last hurrah, it was too late for her to do so. "We had already written and shot the episode [for which we originally wanted her] which emotionally dealt with [the romantic rivalry]," Bell says. "So, to go [back] and force her into the very last episode to retread stuff that we already dealt with didn't make any sense.

"By the time it became a possibility," he goes on, "the ship had sort of sailed."

Fine. So, how then will this much-ballyhooed (by us) May 5 episode give closure to Angel, Spike and Buffy — not to mention Angel/Buffy and Spike/Buffy proponents — when the superheroine in the middle of the muddle will be nowhere to be seen? "Angel and Spike arrive at an understanding — that's all I'll say about that," Bell teases. "And without her being involved, Buffy's character has come to some sort of understanding, too."

After that, the vamp-dusting ghostbusters will forge forward toward their final showdown (a two-parter airing May 12 and 19). "We're gonna get to the bottom of why we've been in Wolfman & Hart this whole time and what we're gonna do about it," hints Bell. And, though he refuses to drop any clues as to who will be "left standing at the end," he does promise this: "It's gonna be big!" As Buffy might have replied, "Well, duh!"