Angel Ending Explained: What Happened After The Series Finale Cliffhanger (2023)

By James Hunt

Updated

Angel, Joss Whedon's Buffy The Vampire Slayer spin-off, didn't have a definitive ending. We look back at the series finale and explain what happened.

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Angel, Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off, ended 15 years ago, so what happened in the series finale, and what came next for the vampire with a soul? Angel's series finale, "Not Fade Away", first aired back in May 2004, and despite the fact it originally wasn't supposed to end the show it works well as a fitting conclusion. Throughout its five-season run, Angel proved itself a worthy companion to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, taking a darker, slightly more adult approach and better-developing characters who had started out on Buffy, including Cordelia, Wesley, and, of course, Angel himself.

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The final season finds the team joined by Spike, fresh from saving the world in the Buffy series finale, and once more has the Angel Investigations team battling the forces of evil. Angel was surprisingly canceled during season 5, meaning that storylines planned to run for longer had to be wrapped up much sooner, and so "Not Fade Away" had to bring the battle with the Senior Partners of Wolfram & Hart to a close. Whedon had enough time to rework things into a finale, although the ending itself isn't totally definitive.

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Angel's Series Finale Ends On A Cliffhanger

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After several cast members leaving Angel, such as Elizabeth Röhm, Angel's series finale revolves around the team's last stand against the Senior Partners, in which they must do battle with the Circle of the Black Thorn, a subset of Wolfram & Hart who serve as the Senior Partners' instruments on Earth. Angel infiltrates the group, renouncing the prophecy and giving up any chance of becoming human to convince them of his loyalty. The team then has one last day on Earth, with Angel telling them they're probably going to die: Angel visits his son, Connor; Gunn helps Anne at a homeless shelter; Lorne performs onstage; Wesley tends to Illyria; Spike gets drunk and recites a poem that he first recited back in 1880.

In the Buffy spinoff show Angel, the group all take care of their targets within the Circle of the Black Thorn, each of them being killed one-by-one, although Wesley dies as a result. That's not the end of the battle though, as the Senior Partners send an army of demons down to Earth. The remaining gang - Angel, Gunn, Spike, and Illyria - prepare to face them. As Angel draws a sword and says "let's get to work", rain pouring down to add to the apocalyptic feel, "Not Fade Away" comes to an end, and so too does Angel.

Although Whedon refutes the idea of this being a cliffhanger, it did certainly appear to be one at the time. There's an expectation to see the battle and to find out who makes it through alive, but instead the finale — and thus the series — ends rather abruptly, without a proper conclusion. It may have been a deliberate move from controversial showrunner Joss Whedon, but it left plenty of viewers confused as to what had happened (and was divisive at the time), especially when there was no Angel season 6 on the horizon.

Angel Was Supposed To Have A Season 6

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Angel season 5 wasn't supposed to be the end of the show, with Whedon and the rest of the cast and crew expecting that The WB network would renew it for a sixth season. When the network then pulled the plug it came as a major surprise to those involved, with Whedon describing it as "Healthy Guy Falls Dead From A Heart Attack." The sentiments have since been echoed by James Marsters, who played Spike, as he told The AV Club: "...We were all thinking, ‘There’s no way they’re going to cancel us now!... And the problem was that Joss likes to plan ahead, and this one caught him completely by surprise, so he hadn’t saved any budget or built up a storyline to finish the arc of Angel."

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Angel's ratings in season 5 were actually up on season 4, making the lack of renewal even more of a shock, although the common reason given behind the move is that Whedon pressed John Levin, WB's Head of Entertainment, for an early decision on the show rather than the typical mid-May renewal. With other plans up in the air and different shows in development Levin, forced to give an answer, chose to cancel Angel.

Whedon had to rework season 5 to give it an ending and tie some threads up, although there have been various rumors about what his plans for the Buffy spinoff Angel season 6 included. Apparent plot points would've involved Illyria either becoming more like Fred, or Willow being able to separate the two, and Seth Green's Oz was linked with a return to help Nina, who was going to become a more permanent fixture.

What Happens To Angel In The Comics

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Joss Whedon insists Angel's series finale didn't end on a cliffhanger, but he did choose to continue the story, albeit not on TV. Following on from the success of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics, Whedon decided to let Angel live on in comic book form too, with Angel: After The Fall picking up from the events of "Not Fade Away."

In the Buffy show spinoff comics Angel: After The Fall, after taking a stand against the Senior Partners, the entire city of Los Angeles has been sent to hell. Angel, of course, continues to fight the good fight as best he can, and partners up with a dragon who was originally sent to kill him by the Senior Partners. Spike lives under the protection of Illyria, who has lost control of her powers and at times turns back into Fred, while Connor, Nina, and Gwen help to provide a place to keep people safe from demons. The worst fates befall Gunn and Wesley. The former has been turned into a vampire, who captures victims under the guise of rescue, while Wesley, even after his death, remains contractually bound to Wolfram & Hart, existing in an incorporeal form.

Related: Buffy The Vampire Slayer: What Happened To Angel After The Series Ended

It's later revealed that Angel was turned mortal by the Senior Partners to reduce his chances of opposing them. Angel continues to fight, going up against the Lords of L.A., but has to rely on glamours to appear as though he is still a vampire, a trick that eventually runs out. Angel almost dies, but a new demon army is sent to resurrect him, which leads to him figuring out that the Senior Partners' plans hinge on him being alive. He provokes Gunn into killing him, and because of his death, the Partners revert things back to how they were before Los Angeles was sent to hell. Angel is back to being a vampire, Gunn is saved from becoming one, and the team are treated as heroes for helping to save the city, with Angel then going off into the night to continue helping the helpless.

With seven main series, 14 miniseries, and six one-shots under its belt, the Angel comics series in the Slayerverse is chock-full of stories about what happened since the show ended. Some of these are considered canon while others are not, but they are still making the comic books in 2022. Later on in the series, Angel and Faith experienced a team-up which resulted in the Angel & Faith comic books, which is currently in its 10th season. The Angel & Faith comics have been the most popular thus far, seeing the two battling against the forces of evil. The very first comic of the tenth season sees Angel after averting the apocalypse watching over a chaotic slew of supernatural activity in London, whereas Faith starts a new chapter in her life, slaying the undead and then "going corporate." Despite the Angel series' controversial ending, it's clear that the story will continue in comic form.

Angel Ending Vs Buffy Ending - Which Is Better?

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With talks of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer revival circulating, there's never a better time to look at both series' endings and how they compare. The bottom line is that the Buffy ending was one of the best send-offs in television history, properly finishing up story threads and leaving the characters with real closure. Angel, on the other hand, didn't receive the same fate. Rather, Angel ended ambiguously, with questions that could only be answered for people who bothered to read the comics. Though both series had comic books after their ending, the Buffy comics weren't necessarily needed after the show, since everything was explained. They were simply there for fan service, as many wanted more narratives after the series. The Angel comics were necessary because the show ended so vaguely that the story had to continue in search of some genuine resolution. This could obviously be blamed on the series' abrupt cancelation, but nonetheless, the Buffy ending was worlds better than Angel's.

What Angel's Ending Really Means

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Whether you view Angel's ending as a cliffhanger or not, and regardless of if you read the comics, the series finale of Angel does work as a satisfying conclusion to the entire arc of the series, and in particular the character of Angel himself. Viewers might not get to see the battle, but that's not the point. The point is that there's going to be a battle at all: Angel is going to fight for what's right and to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

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That's the broad theme of Angel, both throughout the show and in its lead character. It ultimately doesn't matter if he can be redeemed so far that he turns human again — what matters is that he will continue to search for redemption and to right wrongs. Despite criticisms from actors on the show, Angel will always have to fight, and he'll always do it. There'll be another battle after this one, and one after that. In life, especially the life Angel and his friends have chosen, you don't get to just stop. "Let's get to work" isn't a rallying cry for that battle, but a simple summation of what they do. Angel's ending manages to give hints of a more concrete ending, with emotional moments such as the one between Angel and Connor, but it's more concerned with telling us that the battle will go on, and Angel's always going to be there fighting it for us. It might not be season 6, nor quite as definitive as showing them save the world, but it's a satisfying, moving conclusion that loops back in with the entire ethos of Angel.

Next: Angel: The Episode That Was Too Dark To Air On Television

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