My Personal Rank: #6.

FB: Street-based-comic-fragile-soul-inexpert-but-precocious!

Pros: Hoo boy. This one’s a bit tough to dissect, because it has so much that I really love, AND YET…it’s the only one of these that, in retrospect, doesn’t work for me.

As a rendition of E-Merl, I think it’s great. In fact, it might be the best thing we did to present him in the last year or two of the series. He starts out performing for the masses (as he did here). His early lines fit the “hey, I’m awesome” cadence of a rap battle as well as the way performing magicians talk themselves up. Then he gets more and more self-deprecating until someone else displaces him. He’s deaf to the new contender’s veiled praise for him, but he picks up on that person’s pretty obvious depression. And his usual insecurity fades as he realizes it’s up to him to save the tone of this performance…and the only way to do it is to get positive about himself. So he does. What seemed impossible for him becomes easy, because his friend needs him to do it. I find that moving, even now. And the closing joke is my favorite line.

Plus, that “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” rhythm is unstoppable. Whenever E-Merl has the mic, this is our most singable, danceable “rap.”

And…I like the idea behind Gravedust’s performance. It’s got a bit of “Friends, Romans, countrymen…” to it, in that he praises what he seems to dis and disses what he seems to praise. While E-Merl’s insecurities were all over his surface at this point in his development, Gravedust’s were more hidden…but they were also on a grander scale than E-Merl’s, and there were key moments when Gravedust teetered on the edge of utter despair. This “battle of the self-owns” acknowledges this and has a little more weight as a result. It subverts, even reverses, this duo’s usual dynamic.

Cons: But if Harky-Penk made the mistake of sticking too close to the source material, this one strays a little too far. It’s rare to see a version of Gravedust who’s this melancholy when there’s been no outside event to provoke it. So without some lead-in scene to justify his mood—maybe meeting a dwarf at the marketplace who’s fled Iver’s regime and is now getting painful surgery to pass for human?—he just reads as kind of “off model” here.

The rhythm on Gravedust’s side is also difficult to parse. I think I was nodding to his stand-up history and the spoken-word poetry he’d sometimes use when laying spirits to rest. But it shakes out as kind of a “minor-key national anthem” with all the “Gastonians,” which hardly works for him. It’d be more emotionally appropriate for him to be addressing the Savasi, but that’d bring more confusion about where and how this is supposed to be happening.

The elevator pitch here was for E-Merl and Gravedust to try rap battling and both fail at it. But that doesn’t quite work either, due to their wildly different energy levels and the fact that E-Merl never disses Gravedust once. It ends up feeling, rather, like they fail at completely different tasks before E-Merl comes back and succeeds at his. Yeah, go ahead and save this one, E-Merl, it really does need you!