After last week's commendably focused episode, "True Blood" returned to its usual scattershot ways this week in an all-over-the-place installment. It was a hour heavy on vampire blood ties (the ways in which vampires consider themselves "family" were stressed throughout) but low on real thrills or surprises.

If it wasn't for Kristin Bauer van Straten's continued excellence as a suddenly dramatically dominant Pam, this week would've been a total wash. But let's break it down:

The Good (What worked)

— Once again, Pam can do no wrong. She saved Tara from vampire suicide in the tanning salon ("As your maker I command you never try that again!"), taught her how to feed, reunited with Eric at Fangtasia only to feel angry and betrayed when he accuses her of freeing Russell, and ultimately found herself "released" by Eric for her own protection. She no longer has to do his bidding as her maker, and she's not required to stand by him in any fight. We know Pam is bonded to Eric by an emotional as much as a supernatural connection, so it's hard to believe this will work out the way Eric wants. In any case, the scene where Eric actually "released" Pam -- movingly played by both Bauer van Straten and Alexander Skarsgard -- was the clear standout this week.

— Pam telling Eric about Tara: "Congratulations, you're a grandfather."

— The rare Bill/Tara scene -- and the first since Tara became a vampire -- was a nice pairing of performers. Of course their main topic of discussion was Sookie, she's brought both of them a lot of joy and pain over the years. Tara seems to be over it at the moment, but Bill definitely is not.

— Bill and Jessica also shared a nice moment, in keeping with the episode's vampire family theme. He looks at her like a proud papa, and she remains a true believer in the Bill/Sookie romance: "Sookie and you is different than Sookie and anyone else."

The Bad (What didn't work)

— Where to begin? So much of the episode advanced dull storylines in dull ways, particularly Sam's shapeshifter buddies reappearing only to be murdered a few scenes later and the now officially annoying subplot for Terry. The Iraq flashback was as painfully cheesy as anything we've seen on the show, and it still seems to be leading absolutely nowhere.

— Without Bill and Eric in the mix, the Vampire Authority scenes were pretty interminable. Fortunately we got to know Salome better last week, so she provided some point of investment. The rest of the crew isn't exactly popping, and Roman staking bratty little vamp Alexander was a fun moment mostly because it meant we won't have to see that character again. Three weeks after his debut, Christopher Meloni hasn't had much of value to do since his introductory communion scene.

— Meloni isn't adding much menace to the show and we still haven't seen Russell emerge from hiding. That's leaving the season extra low on suspense and conflict. Lafayette's occasional demonic shifts are more threatening to everyone's safety at this point. Not that Sookie's silly out of control car scene was anything but laughable.

— Where were those ridiculous scenes with Andy, Jason and the judge heading? Oh, to a bizarre night club in fairy land which looks a lot like "Moulin Rouge" reimagined by Rob Marshall. Hilarious, tacky, cheap and not sexy at all. Jason running into Aunt Hadley and learning there may be more to his parents' death than he realizes is a fine twist, but too little too late to redeem the situation.

— Sookie and Alcide? They had to go there eventually, right? But considering there's no chemistry between Paquin and Manganiello, and Alcide has never been very useful, I'm not expecting to believe Sookie has finally found The One. (I'm with Jessica on this anyway. She belongs with Bill.)

The Nasty (The week in sex and violence)

— There was a promising start with Tara's skin melting off in the tanning bed, but the rest of the action was downright tame until Roman staked the brat.

— Also, unless you count Sookie and Alcide's make out session, no one even got it on this week. What's going on "True Blood"?

What did you think of this week's episode?