Social Links are the non-linear story threads of the game. It allows for the player to delve and discover the depths of the many side characters the game throws at you. They are not required for progression, and yet are essential for fully experiencing the game. However, they are again, non-linear. Persona 4's attempt at translating this into the linear anime format leads to success and failure, both conveniently placed in the same episode.
Episode 3 begins with what is probably my favorite scene so far. As you develop the Chie social link, one of the later levels has Chie telling you about how her and Yukiko met, little lost puppies and all. It helps further develop the their friendship. The show takes perfect advantage of this, placing it within the same episode as Chie's confrontation with her shadow.
Her hidden motivation for being friends with Yukiko, the enjoyment of being Yukiko's master, the latter whom cannot do anything without her, is meant to be her true face. The game responds to this not with grim acceptance at her own perverse motivation, but with a "the ends justifies the means" kind of attitude, that as long as she and Yukiko are friends, nothing else matters. This has never sat all that well with me. It wasn't a true acceptance of self, but pretending its alright because of what it results in.
However, by adding the social link scene so early on as the show has done, it brings a new level of legitimacy to this line of thinking. Chie and Yukiko befriended each other long before this perverse relationship between them came into being. They became friends as children, innocent of all the faults that currently tarnish them as teens. Their relationship had a pure beginning, and that's what counts in the end.
On the other side of this magnificent scene however we have the symptoms of over indulgence in references rearing its head. A proper reference gives much to those that catch it, but does not take away from those that do not. And the following moments fail this rule.
There was no reason for the Kou Ichijo scene, and its presence felt very much like a "hey, remember this guy" moment. The sports team social link however is not the only one at fault. It merely is the least subtle. In the second episode, the auditorium announcement is preceded by a quick pan of the teachers standing on stage. And of course, one was a gym teacher, one was wearing a pharaoh head dress, and one had his right up holding a sock puppet. Not as heavy handed as the Ichijo moment, but any viewer unfamiliar with the game would probably look at the characters, and be dismayed by the ridiculousness.
In other less analytical news, Narukami's cheating ways continue. Two more rank ups in stats and pyro jack all before Yukiko's castle is even finished? How dirty are you going to play.