After thinking about the episode some overnight, I think it actually does deflate some of the criticisms about Kirino a little bit by making her a bit more human. This is pretty typical for over-achievers -- they tend to get "promoted" above their own ability, and have to sort of "learn to fail" -- something they may never have had to come to terms with previously. I remember my own father telling me how he cruised through High School and even skipped a grade, then got advanced placement in University and almost completely bombed his first year. I felt this was pretty similar, and is a pretty important bit of character development for her. They already explained that Kirino was a hard worker... but I'm not sure that she would ever have called that "hard work"; she did what she needed to do (and often wanted to do) and success seemed to follow her. But she's actually just a small fish in a big pond; no matter how talented she may be, there are always people that much more talented than she is. So this episode's development were mostly about tempering Kirino's otherwise almost-excessive pride with humility.
It's funny because Kyousuke is so used to swallowing his pride, so when Kirino was going on about "I can't just walk away" (due mostly to not wanting to take the pride hit), that's something he really couldn't understand directly (he does practically nothing but take pride hits over the course of the show) -- he can only win Kirino over using an emotional appeal. On the other hand, Kuroneko understands pride and this situation perfectly (given her own personality, what she said about Kirino last episode, and the response to her own "failure" of a game), so the way she treated Kirino here was perfect -- she acknowledged the failure, but still gave Kirino an opportunity to regain a bit of her pride by focusing on the victory she did achieve. In other words, while Kyousuke's appeal was sort of like "your failures don't matter because I need you" (which, granted, is very flattering, though was pretty darn embarrassing for him! "Without you, I might die!" :heh: ), Kuroneko's appeal was more "yes, you failed, but you're not a failure", and shows they have a much better understanding of each other as equals. To Kirino, though, I imagine that both responses were equally important.
So despite the (rather tongue-in-cheek?) suggestions of some people above, I don't expect quite the same amount of vitriol we've seen in the past against Kirino's character (though that doesn't mean people will like the plot developments). Though Kirino is still Kirino (with all that entails), this episode mostly focuses on Kirino's many weaknesses, and how people like Kyousuke and Kuroneko have come to value her despite her flaws. If we started the show with a Kirino who was barely understandable, then the whole show is going through a process of gradually revealing and refining who Kirino is and what she's becoming. Where before we could only see the sort of blunt outline, now we're able to see a lot more detail and nuance -- not necessarily enough to make everyone like her, but enough to help people understand where she's coming from a little bit. Sort of like they're gradually chiseling away at a block of clay to eventually create a sculpture.
There's probably a whole separate conversation that could be had about the way they're developing Kuroneko and Kyousuke's "relationship" here. Mostly, it seemed to me that Kyousuke was being even more dense then ever. The insinuation of his first action was, apparently, that he was trying to give Kuroneko some space so that she can spend time with her new friend, but he sure was being hard to read and awkward. It came across rather cold, and it was only after that it made some sense (Did he have to be so cold about it? Are we supposed to interpret that as tension between them, or...?). But then to later call her to deal with his mini-meltdown... it's a really good thing that Kuroneko took the lead and set the record straight about her feelings -- that she was happy for the time she spent with him. Not to mention the "curse" (and the furious blush that followed :heh: ). It's good that at least she is (mostly) able to keep things together and give him the push he needed to do what he needed to do... but the whole time I was basically scratching my head at Kyousuke wondering he really had any clue what he was trying to do here. Maybe with this chapter closed, he'll be able to be a bit more deliberate in his actions involving her.