They call him “The Golden Boy,” and not just because he was the only American boxer to win a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona wearing spray-on tanning make-up. Undefeated W.B.O. lightweight champion EJ Feddes looks like a movie star after a long night at Roscoe’s eating chicken and waffles, talks like a tenured English professor in an after-hours meeting with the father of one of his coed students, and punches like a miniature Mike Tyson. Like, a 24″ tall Mike Tyson. But all but two of his twenty-one pro fights have ended in knockouts, and now Feddes is about to face the sternest test of his career: answer a bunch of questions posed by a stranger via email on the Internet. If anyone can handle it, it’s Feddes.
LY: OK, that set-up was mainly to make my wife laugh. All I know is that I was surfing around for Lost commentary in the middle of last season, and The Goog sent me to one of your columns at Spunky Bean. I read the next couple pre-games and re-visits you wrote, and I became a big fan of your commentary. The missus told me: “You know why you write about Lost; why not ask EJ why he does?” Your insights are crazy and well-considered and out-of-left-field and simultaneously compelling and full of truth. What the hell, man? I’m dying to know: what makes you give all this inspired attention to Lost? I know you work in finance and you’ve got a stand-up career, and you’re working on a novel, so obviously you have an appreciation for good writing whether fictional, observational, or what…? Actuarial. So start us off with EJ FEDDES’ DECLARATION OF WAR: THE SHORT FORM.
EJ: Thanks for the kind words, first off. I worry that this is a technique to catch me off guard and trip me up later on. It’s going to turn into Frost/Nixon if I’m not careful.
I’ve worked in the mortgage industry for most of my adult life, but not in any capacity where I’m at all responsible for breaking America. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and I wrote two novels that didn’t make it much farther than my desktop, and I think it’s better for all concerned if they remain there. I’m working on something new, though it’s on hold until after Lost season. And as you mentioned, I do stand-up comedy on occasion, though that sort of alternates between “exhilirating” and “soul crushing”.
I think I started writing at length about TV back in 2002 – I had a group of friends that loved Arrested Development, and I started noting all the continuity nods and references and sent out a big e-mail every week. I started writing about Lost about halfway through the first season, but it was ridiculously informal. Usually after I watched an episode for the second time, I’d write to everybody in my viewing group with speculation or things we didn’t catch while we were watching it. People would pass that around, and by the second season, I’d get e-mail from people I’d never met complaining if there wasn’t an e-mail waiting for them the morning after an episode aired. (And thus, I can no longer go to bed until after I’ve posted the write-up. I remember when I used to sleep…)
And as you know, Lost really rewards that kind of scrutiny, and it started early. First it was a matter of going back and finding all the times where the numbers had been used, and then suddenly we had orientation films and literary references and the physics of time travel. The more work you put into it, the more there was to find. Essentially, if they’re going to keep rewarding me with that level of complexity, I feel like I owe it to them to really engage with what they’re giving me.
LY: I’m real interested with the Clark Kent/Superman version of your life. When I read your answer about working in the mortgage industry juxtaposed with the writer/comedian stuff, I couldn’t help but think of Locke pre-crash and Locke on-Island. He’s the same guy, but his internal life is much different than his external one. And in reading your analyses, I know you’re drawn to Locke and Ben, who, while simultaneously have dual and conflicting agendas, also seem to be cut from the same cloth. Is this just armchair psychiatry, or was George Orwell right when he wrote: “Man wears a mask; his face then grows to fit it.”?
EJ: That’s a really interesting question – here’s where I’m glad we’re doing this over email, so nobody has to watch me to stare into the middle distance for several minutes while muttering “I hadn’t thought of that…” I think there’s definitely something to that, though. When you have a job that you don’t really connect with, I think it’s only natural to wonder when it goes from being the thing you do to make money and get by to being what you are. Do you hold on to what you really want to do or fully embrace where life put you and start angling for that promotion and making contacts in the industry and that sort of thing?
That’s something I’ve struggled with to one extent or another for a long time, and I think that’s definitely part of the reason I was drawn to Locke so early on. Every time you see him in flashback, you see another way that he’s been screwed over. The thing is, though, he was getting by. He got up in the morning and went to work and he still worked toward his dream and held onto the little releases that brought him pleasure. That’s a cool thing in and of itself, especially when popular fiction tends to separate people into those who throw everything away to pursue their dreams and those who are dead inside. And then you get Island Locke, and while for years he’s been somebody who’s had to make those compromises and focus on making it from day to day, when given the chance, he’s capable of something awesome.
That’s inspiring, and like I say, I haven’t really thought about it before, but I didn’t actually start performing until near the end of the first season of Lost. I had written a full sixty minutes of material, but I’d never thought about actually doing anything with it, because I was a mortgage guy – not a comedian.
LY: Yeah, but that’s more of that George Orwell: if you’re a mortgage guy writing jokes, you’re already wearing the comedian mask…
EJ:This is kind of strange, because I’ve put a lot of material online in the last several year, and I generally don’t get into anything personal. But I’ve got my own father issues. There are a variety of reasons why I shouldn’t get too specific, but I haven’t seen my dad in eleven years, and he was involved in a lot of shady financial things. If Anthony Cooper were kind of bad at his con man job, you’d have my dad. At one time, it was really a struggle to get through the day, until I finally accepted that I was responsible for my own life. I had to learn not to be bitter, and we saw a lot of that with pre-Island Locke. Heck, I broke my leg in four places after the pilot, so when we first saw Locke in the wheelchair, I was just starting out on crutches.
As for Ben, I find him really interesting as the flipside of Locke – if Ben had a job at the box company, he would have poisoned Randy’s coffee inside of the first month. But a lot of my interest in him comes from the way that he betrays the viewers just as much as he does the other characters. We usually know the villains are the villains, and we know what they’re up to and what their endgame is. If it’s Stringer Bell or the Monarch or whoever, we usually get to see them advancing their plan or explaining it to a cohort. We see villainy at work. But back when Ben was Henry Gale, nobody told us otherwise. We didn’t see any scenes of him enjoying his evil plan or communicating with the Others in secret. And once we knew he was trouble, he kept lying to us. We didn’t know he was going to shoot Locke and toss him in a mass grave – the only information we had was the same information that he conveyed to the Lostaways. He keeps secrets from us, and that just draws me in. I like that we have to make the same leap of faith with him that Sun or Ilana does. I believed him at the end of “Dr. Linus,” and if it turns out that he’s lying, there’s a level where I’m going to be hurt. That’s pretty absorbing.
LY: Lost does seem to resonate with folks on a personal, visceral level, which I’d love to find out whether or not was part of the original brief. Still the most expensive pilot episode ever produced, it’s easy to dismiss the Sturm while not recognizing the Drang, you know? Like you noted above, Lost seemed to reward close inspection of the narrative pretty early on. But, at the same time, it’s easy to enjoy it merely as the show with the pretty, sweaty people smooching each other in Hawaii. How much of each dual aspect of its appeal to you give credence to?
EJ: I wasn’t really plugged in back when Lost premiered. Not that I’m hobnobbing with the elite as it is, but at least I pay attention to industry news now. I really just knew the basic premise and that JJ Abrams and Paul Dini were involved. (It seems weird now to think that Dini used to be the story editor in the first season. He’s sort of a forgotten figure in Lost history.) So for me it was a thing where people I liked were doing what I thought was going to be kind of adventure show. That was good enough for me. Obviously, things went crazy after that.
Along the way, there’ve been four or five points where I really thought they were going to drive the casual viewers away completely. The first one was “Numbers”, where they introduce Hurley’s backstory. Actually, I saw that episode at a movie theater – a local radio station did a promotion where they premiered the new episode on the big screen, and you could just tell that some people were really excited about the numbers and others just kind of checked out. I treasure the memory of seeing dozens of people scattered around the lobby with “4 8 15 16 23 42” written on their hands. We were the ones who were going to go home and immediately start checking for other uses of those numbers.
LY: One of us! One of us!
EJ: And then every season has had an episode that made me think it was just going to become a cult show and we’d become targets of derision in the mainstream. In the second season it was “Orientation”, then it was “Flashes Before Your Eyes” when Desmond jumps into his younger self. Then it was “The Constant”, which seemed to baffle people until they really broke it down. Then they got into time travel full-tilt, and this season brought us the (maybe) parallel timeline. I mean, that last one seemed (at first) like the writers were announcing “Hey, remember Fantastic Four # 5 when they changed the past? That’s how this works!”
But I’m always surprised to find that there are people who just watch the show and enjoy it and then don’t think about it until the next episode. My experience is a little skewed since I watch every week with a group that makes Dharma snacks for the season finale every year. (Yes, we have Dharma box wine.) But at work, for example, I talk to people who really like it but they don’t have any memory of hearing the name “Hanso” before. And that’s where the producers have done a really amazing job, I think.
Even if you’re not going to spend the commercial breaks analzyzing what you just saw, you can watch almost any given episode and get a solid unit of entertainment. You get an hour of interesting characters, a cast that’s both really hot and really good (I’ll put the quality of the cast up against any other show today.), and exciting things happen. Honestly, I think that’s JJ Abrams’ biggest legacy in the series – you can build up an intricate mythology, but make darn sure that any given episode has a story on its own (I think seasons two and three had the hardest time with this, since there seems to be a whole string of episodes that either advances the mythology or tells a single story with a beginning, middle, and end. But not both in the same episode.)
Just the fact that we’re in Season Six means that there’s a audience that’s significantly greater than the audience that immediately analyzes the episode online once the end credits roll. You can’t keep a network show on the air by courting only an obsessive audience. (I firmly believe, however, that HBO’s John From Cincinnati was aimed only at television bloggers. It lasted one season, and I still miss it.) They’ve done such a good job of crafting appealing characters, so even if you didn’t go nuts over the reveal of Jacob’s cave and the list of candidates, you still get a winning timeline-shift story about Locke. Or you may not be that interested in the nature of the Monster, but damned if he isn’t snapping people’s spines and keeping you on the edge of your seat. They may have drawn people in with the big amazing pilot and a girl in a bikini sunbathing among the wreckage, but now they’ll either keep you with arguments over why Jacob was wearing black when he met Ilana, or with an insane Sayid vs. Dogen fight scene. And it’s equally valid either way, though I always feel like the casual viewers get really excited when you point out the kind of things that people like you and I spend our time discussing.
As a sidenote, since I clearly haven’t made my answer long enough yet, recently I found where I was just getting pilloried on some forums because I liked the Sawyer/Juliet relationship better than Sawyer/Kate. And it’s not even like that’s a major thing for me, but I really enjoyed them together, and I love the way Sawyer really grew as a person. It was interesting, and I liked them together. This made me crazy, because I really work hard at the recaps and the pre-games. After an episode airs, I get maybe three hours of sleep before I go to work. I spend hours a week doing this, and yeah, it’s my choice to do it and I really do love doing it, but it is a lot of work. And then I find a forum thread where people I’ve never met call me an asshole because I said positive things about Juliet. At first it’s upsetting and then hilarious. But we’re all watching the same show, and we all love it. Our reasons are incredibly different, but we’re all in it together.
LY: I imagine the end of the story is on your mind, like it is mine. Me, I’m content to have the writers tell me their story with (almost) no pre-conceived ideas of how I think it should end. I’m one of the cats who loved the ending to The Sopranos, so I don’t have a big problem with bold story-telling choices. But I am a little concerned about Disney seeing the rabid audience go away and fear that some sort of Caprica or even an AfterM*A*S*H” is likely. What are you going to do with yourself when it ends? Is it all just “Thanks for all the help in math class! Have a bitchin’ summer!” or what?
EJ: Oh man, you and I are the only members of that particular Sopranos club, I think. I have fought that battle too many times over the last couple of years. And I agree with you on the finale – I’ve trusted them for six years, so I have faith in their ability to give me a satisfying finale. There are a couple of things I want to see, but the next few weeks could either provide those things or rule them out completely. There’s nothing I love more than a good (planned) finale – I love to see creators wrap up their stories – there’s a beauty to it. Whether it’s Mike and the ‘bots getting back to Earth, Jeri Blank burning down Flatpoint High, or Oswald State Penitentiary getting shut down, I love to see a story conclude on its own terms. And since Lost has been working to a conclusion for a long time now, I really just want to sit back and watch the magic.
I’d hate to see a sub-par follow-up from other creators, that’s for sure. But I’d also hate to see Lindelof and Cuse bend themselves out of shape to prevent it. I don’t want them killing Hurley in the last scene just to prevent an “Adventures of Hugo” kind of thing. I really want to think that the end will be the end, and the Disney Hive-Mind will let it be. I don’t know how realistic that is, but that’s the dream. I’d also hate to see it go the Buffy route where once it’s all over – you know, with one billion cash-grab merchandising tie-ins. I think Diamond solicited a replica piece of wood at one time for an absurd price, because it looked like a piece of wood from the show. Mostly I’d hate that because I would end up buying too much stuff. I’ll make fun of the Buffy fans who buy a replica stake, but if somebody sold Mr. Eko’s Jesus stick, I’d buy one for my house and one for the car.
It’s not just my favorite show ending in May – it’s a major project. If it weren’t for Lost, the spunkybean website wouldn’t exist. Lostgot me in the habit of writing every single day. I have friends I wouldn’t have met if not for Lost. My life is measurably different because of the show. It always feels weird at the end of each season – the weekly get-togethers and the discussions and all the online activity, it just comes to an end for months. And frankly, I like that stretch every year where I get e-mail from complete strangers with their ideas about something that I love. I’m going to miss that almost as much as I’m going to miss Locke and Hurley and Ben and all the rest. I like your yearbook analogy – I’m going to assume that my Lost buddies will keep in touch, but we’re going to go to different high schools and the kids on their side of town are way cooler than I am.
I’m glad you asked this question in a way that lets me plug myself, by the way. It’s not as if I’m going to instantly transfer my affections elsewhere, but I’ll still be writing 3-4 articles a week for spunkybean. Website maintenance is a harsh mistress. I’m putting together a collection of some of my TV writing, and I think I’m going to put it on one of those print-on-demand sites. I really just want a physical product that I can show off. And after years of thinking about somebody else’s story, I’m feeling motivated to create a story of my own – I’m going to get back to working on my book about the high stakes world of rock-paper-scissors. I’m going to try and find some freelance writing work in the meantime, because you can either spend your life at the box company or you can find the Island. And yes, I realize that would indicate that I’ll be emulating a man who was strangled in a hotel room and buried in an unmarked grave, but you get the point.
Also, my one official prediction about the finale is that I will cry at least once. That’s probably not a spoiler, though.