Once upon a time the Bones writers had an incredible knack for filling each episode with touching case stories which also moved the main characters along in their own personal story arcs. Seasons 1 and 2 are full of examples where one could become more invested in the victims than in the show’s week-to-week characters. As time went on, Bones, like any other successful show evolved and some of the writing staff left to pursue their own careers, so that around season 4, the focus shifted.

Cases became the foil for the character journeys on a good day and at other times were utterly useless. The whodunit was tertiary to whether Booth was willing to express his feelings for Brennan or vice versa. And let’s not even talk about the Hannah Era. That’s not to say it cheapened the series, but it did shift the paradigm and for some who enjoy the show for the rich cases as well as the strong characters there was bitterness and resentment.

Episodes like tonight’s “El Carnicero en el Coche” are proof that this balance is still achievable for the current writing staff when they so choose.  It’s got all of the markers of a solid character episode – witty dialogue, a crazy Hodgins (TJ Thyne) stunt, and Sweets’ sabbatical swan song. But as the episode plays out, the viewer becomes more invested in what’s going on with the gang the case revolves around and more importantly the kid caught in the middle.

After a bit part on House when he was 8, and a guest role on Rizzoli and Isles last December, young Felix Miguel Avitia isn’t new to the crime drama genre, but the role of Javier is his first major role and he pulls it off like a pro. We first glimpse him hiding behind his mother, Maria (Aline Elasmar) and flinching when Booth (David Boreanaz) pulls a gun on him, thinking someone more dangerous is hiding in the house. But it isn’t until all of the evidence points to his mom and she’s dragged in as the killer that the young boy shines as the episode’s true star.

The back and forth between Avitia and actor John Francis Daley in the FBI lobby has just the right mix of scared little boy and potential gangster. Yes, Brennan (Emily Deschanel) has her anthropological facts concerning kids and gangs, while Booth has his streets smarts, but this scene and the ones inside of the interrogation room sell because of Avitia and Daley’s chemistry. They give the viewer an emotional buy-in to the case side of the story and offer a much better reason for Sweets to take some extended time off from the FBI than last week’s story did. The case has a feel-good ending, despite Javier being the killer, that hearkens back to old gems like “The Boy in the Shroud” and “The Signs in the Silence.”

All in all it’s a good reminder of all of the strengths this cast and crew bring to the show. The dialogue between Hodgins and Cam (Tamara Taylor) is gold. Booth and Brennan instituting a policy for what happens when one of them is shot at is spot on for where the two of them are at in their relationship. And the farewell toast for Sweets at the Founding Fathers, complete with Avengers shout out, is a great ensemble moment.

What did you think? Did the case grip you? Will you miss Sweets? How long do you think he’ll be gone and what might bring him back?

Bones returns next week with “The Sense in the Sacrifice” @8pm on FOX.