It’s the Supernatural season 9 mid-season finale, and the series made sure to leave its fans with something to think about until its January 14 return. Though it may have taken longer than most had hoped, the return to this season’s Heavenly battle took a no holds barred approach in escalating the severity of Metatron’s (Curtis Armstrong) grab for power and Dean’s unfortunate lie.

In this week’s episode, “Holy Terror,” written by longtime series duo Brad Buckner & Eugenie Ross-Leming, all hell (or Heaven) breaks loose as two factions of angels – one lead by Maliki, the anarchist, the other by Bartholomew – wage a series of bloody battles in order to gain the upper hand and overthrow Metatron and take Heaven as their own in the process.

Elsewhere, Sam (Jared Padalecki), Dean (Jensen Ackles) and an energetic Castiel (Misha Collins) reunite and begin to follow the blood trail left in the angels’ wake. When allegiances are made and lies are revealed, no army of power-hungry angels can near the destruction of a single, fallen guardian seeking absolution.

Don’t call it a comeback – Supernatural has always been an episodic series at heart; it simply has the ability to earnestly wear a serialized skin, if it so chooses. Fortunately, it chose to do so with this episode, where “Ezekiel” (Tahmoh Penikett) is revealed to be Gadreel, the angel who failed to prevent sin from entering the Garden of Eden; Metatron convinces Gadreel to kill Kevin Tran (Osric Chau), thus securing his allegiance to Metatron; and Sam becomes the meat suit of a fleeing angelic assassin. Don’t forget: Kevin Tran is dead!

Ding-Dong! The Tran is dead – or whichever song fans use to celebrate the passing of one of the series’ underloved characters. Kevin Tran has been kicking around Supernatural for quite some time now, and the quality of his appearances were, unfortunately, never consistent. Even so, as with most things on Supernatural – or any TV show, really – when it works, it works.

At his best, Tran was a lifeline for Sam and Dean while the series was sadly de-Bobby’ing (Jim Beaver) itself; at his worst, he brought enough mother issues with him that only years of therapy – or Crowley (Mark Sheppard) – could fix. Still, you’ve got to give Ackles credit for almost eliciting an emotional response from viewers as they watch Dean painfully acknowledge Kevin’s brutal death.

More so, however, Kevin’s death unleashes Sam from Dean’s side and, now with Sam “gone,” the younger Winchester finally gets a chance to shine with celestial wrath. Of course, Sam’s impression of Gadreel is just that, and there’s a fan-favorite Dollhouse actor who established the voice of the series’ new, likely misguided nemesis, so it’s doubtful that Sam will stray too far away – although it may be far enough to cause just the right amount of damage. Until the Winchesters are reunited, Dean is now a truly one-man show…well, perhaps not completely.

Before the boorish angels kicked off Heavenly chain of events that nobody saw coming, this week’s episode established a terrific rapport between Dean and Castiel – one that’s easily strong enough to carry the weight of a missing Sam. However, now that Castiel has finally embraced his humanity, a twist was added and Castiel was able to gain his powers back by draining the Grace of another angel. Whether or not the return of Castiel’s power will greatly impact the emotional progress he has made is the big question, and one that won’t be answered for over a month.

When the series returns in January, Supernatural will have a great deal of story to work with, and it’ll be interesting to see how they attempt to blend this weighty serialized tale in with any episodic adventures they have planned. If anything, a single episode focused on Dean and Castiel will likely occur.

For those looking for one thing they can absolutely be excited about, it’s the January 21 episode, “First Born,” which will have Psych’s Timothy Omundson playing Cain.

Supernatural returns Tuesday, January 14, 2014 with “Road Trip” @9pm on The CW.