One of my favorite elements of movies, television, or books is character development. I especially enjoy when a character comes across very simply in one way, but then as the story progresses, we start to see little things come out, such as how they respond or react to situations, or what we learn about their past experiences, that starts to complicate them a little bit here and there. There is nothing better than a character with a complicated story and right now, my favorite one out there that has the potential for such a mindblowing twist is Pete Martino, the loveable, scout leader from one of my favorite shows, Ghosts.
If you know the show, first of all, good on you, mate! If you don’t, allow me to give you an itty bitty breakdown. There’s this house in the Hudson Valley that is riddled with ghosts from various points in North American history. One day, a living woman, Samantha (Sam), and her husband, Jay, inherited the property from her late great aunt and as she is settling in, she sustains a head injury stemming from a trip down the stairs. When he awakes from a two-week coma, she has attained the ability to see ghosts. In the massive home are eight main ghosts with whom she has the most contact. The show examines her relationship with them and the ghosts’ relationship with each other. And because they are earthbound spirits, there is something that keeps each and every one of them bound to this house. The fun part for the audience is determining what that might be. This, of course, involves character study and analysis. And that’s where this post comes in.
Of all the fun character archetypes this show features, my favorite is the apparent nice guy with a positive, can-do personality. This character is always willing to lend a helping hand and would readily give the shirt off his back, often putting the needs of his or her friends before their own. At first, it might seem like this type of character is more black and white. That what they put out is who they really are. But upon peeling back the layers, it becomes evident that there is more to this person than meets the eye. Ghosts has its own very own nice guy in Pete Martino.
Who is this Pete anyway?
Pete is a father and husband who was tragically killed in an archery accident in 1985. He is now bound to the Woodstone mansion with his fellow ghosts. Pete maintains an overwhelmingly positive attitude and enjoys supporting his friends. He often puts their needs before his own in an attempt to model positive behavior for them. And while this effort has proven futile over the last 37 years, his ability to persevere is admirable. It’s rare not to see a smile on his face and while arguably he had one of the most violent deaths (so far), he still manages to find ways to make light of it. Every opportunity he gets to point out his arrow, he goes for it. It’s not clear if he wants the attention or if he longs for someone to feel sorry for him. His ability to talk so freely about it, almost jokingly at times, makes me wonder how he truly feels about losing his life in such a horrific way. Pete enjoys a good pun and probably invented the dad joke, as the ones he often makes are just as corny. He is easily one of the more loveable characters on television, and when sad things have happened to him (his wife admitting an affair while he was still alive, the assumed rejection of a possible love interest in Alberta), it’s so very easy for your heart to break for the poor guy.
Let’s take a deeper look at this character.
There’s evidence that may support that Pete shares similar characteristics with those who have Nice Guy Syndrome. I have theorized that Pete is a ghost who died in his mid to late thirties. We know from the second episode that he was married for 16 years, which from 1985 would make 1969 the year he married. I believe that Pete and his wife Carol were teenagers when they married, which was common in the 60s. And to add a smidge of edge to him, I have also theorized that Pete and Carol married because she was pregnant. Marrying her stays true to his personality as a loyal person who is willing to do the right thing, no matter the cost. This also provides a possible explanation for Carol’s infidelity later in their marriage.
Now with this added history, it is possible to assume that perhaps Pete’s marriage was not as solid from the beginning. In this timeline, Carol has assumed the position of a stay-at-home wife and mother, while supporting her husband’s career. That, coupled with having a newborn early on in their union, could’ve sparked some resentment on her end. Pete likes routines and structure. And we know that toward the end of his life, he was engaged in a variety of activities that often took him and kept him outside of the home daily. In episode two, when Pete tries to get Sam’s attention, he mentions that because he was married for 16 years, he knows what it’s like to be ignored. This may suggest that their marriage may have hit a rough patch. Perhaps this period of him feeling ignored could be due to his wife stepping out on their marriage. It could also be an attempt to convince us that he was the one being ignored when the knowledge of his many out-of-home activities suggests that perhaps he was the one doing the ignoring.
A lonely, young mother might then find it tempting to look for attention in the arms of another. And who better to be that other than someone who is close to the family…a best friend perhaps? If the above is true, then it’s reasonable to assume that Carol might have been bored and frustrated with how stagnated her marriage had become. We have a man who might have experienced possible trauma, mixed with his inability to stay home which makes for a man who may not have had to skills necessary to be the kind of husband someone like Carol needed. When neglect and apathy, whether intentional or not, are at play in love, then one party is bound to stray. And while Pete might have said he has forgiven Carol for her indiscretions, refers to her as “a dirty, lying cheater” within the same breath. The tone of his voice and his choice of words suggests that while he may have forgiven her, he no longer loves her and may still harbor negative feelings toward her.
In the pilot episode, Pete talks about how he and his wife argued the last time they spoke. Once he remembered what they argued about, he called her a “selfish so-and-so” and blamed her for doing something as trivial as eating donut holes.… something that after 37 years should no longer be a big deal. I think he might have been upset about something else or perhaps he experiences moments of irritability that are brought about by something that appears to be trivial or small. Irritability is also a symptom synonymous with trauma.
In episode four, Pete, in response to Jay calling him “arrow guy”, suggests that he could be known as the award-winning travel agent or a great dad instead. He never mentions being a faithful or loving husband. Indeed, he might’ve thought himself one, primarily because he was loyal to his wife and never did anything overtly wrong, such as cheat on her or abuse her. But just because you aren’t a complete jerk, doesn’t automatically make you a great husband.
Pete is kind of a jerk to Flower in episode 14. She repeatedly offers to watch the basketball games with Pete and he flat out ignores her, opting to only watch the game with Jay. Although not explicitly stated that this is a sexist move, Pete was a baby boomer, raised at a time when most women stayed home and when gender roles were enforced. Pete may unconsciously hold some sexist or outdated notions about the roles of women, particularly those in sports. Furthermore, Pete is a child of divorce, as he references in episode 15. While we don’t know the ins and outs of what happened thereafter or who he primarily lived with during the rest of his childhood, Nice Guy Syndrome tends to show itself in men who did/do not have good and/or close relationships with their own fathers. It would be reasonable then to assume that Pete could’ve grown up with his mother and struggled to connect with his father. This could also hold a clue about how he may have viewed his wife and what he believed about marriage.
Still need convincing? Here are some descriptions of Nice Guys from “And Now, Why Being A Nice Guy Will Ruin Your Life”, a blog post by Leo Petaccia and dialogue from the show to support them..
“Nice Guys are givers. Nice Guys frequently state that it makes them feel good to give to others. These men believe their generosity is a sign of how good they are and will make other people love and appreciate them.”
Example: “My strong suits? Well, I’m can-do, selfless. I tend to put other people’s desires and needs before my own.”
“Nice Guys fix and caretake. If a person has a problem, has a need, is angry, depressed, or sad, Nice Guys will frequently attempt to solve or fix the situation (usually without being asked).
Example: “They’re hurting each other’s feelings. I have to put a stop to this.”
“Nice Guys seek approval from others. A universal trait of the Nice Guy Syndrome is the seeking of validation from others. Everything a Nice Guy does or says is at some level calculated to gain someone’s approval or avoid disapproval.“
Example: “You wanna know why I compromise, Nancy? I’m modeling for these people. Yes, it’s been 40 years and yes they’re not exactly picking up what I’m laying down but I believe in them. They have good in them. And eventually, they’re gonna get there. And until that time, I’m gonna keep setting an example”
“Nice Guys avoid conflict. Nice Guys seek to keep their world smooth. To do this, they avoid doing things that might rock the boat or upset anyone.”
Example: “Hey Hey guys I can’t stand to watch you fight. I will take the room. A little mold never hurt anybody. It’ll be like camping.
“Nice Guys seek the ‘right’ way to do things. Nice Guys believe there is a key to having a happy, problem-free life. They are convinced that if they can only figure out the right way to do everything, nothing should ever go wrong.”
Example: “You know we don’t have to talk her into leaving or destroy anyone. We could just befriend her and ask her not to open the hotel.”
“Nice Guys have difficulty making their needs a priority. These men often feel that it is selfish to put their needs first. They believe it is a virtue to put the needs of others over their own.”
Example: “And you will have nothing short of a 5-star experience in Casa Pete. I’ll even let you choose where you’d like to sleep, the bed or the floor!”
“Nice Guys are manipulative/ passive aggressive – Nice Guys tend to have a hard time making their needs a priority and have difficulty asking for what they want in clear and direct ways. This creates a sense of powerlessness. Therefore, they frequently resort to manipulation or passive aggressiveness when trying to get their needs met”
Example: “That sounds nice but Jay and I have a whole shorthand, you know. It’s kinda our thing. We just don’t talk basketball with anyone.”
Example: “Oh wait! I remember what we were fighting about! She ate all the donut holes. And she doesn’t even like donut holes! It was just to spite me which was just like her- selfish so and so!”
“Nice Guys are often attracted to people and situations that need fixing. This behaviour is often the result of the Nice Guy’s childhood conditioning, his need to look good, or his quest for approval. Unfortunately, this tendency pretty much guaranteed that Nice Guys will spend most of their time putting out fires and managing crises.”
Example: This could explain his attraction to Alberta, knowing she’s never known a healthy relationship, and who has a history of being abused and cheated on.
Listen, I am not diagnosing Peter! I’m not licensed to do that! I’m simply saying that there is possibly more that hides behind those aviator frames. Much more. Maybe, perhaps, there’s a reason why he is as patient and selfless as he is. Maybe it’s to hide some insecurities, whatever those might be.
What do you think? Do you think season 2 will bring out a different side to Peter? Who else do you think maybe putting on airs or at least hiding a deeper secret? Do you think that secret could be why they are stuck in limbo? Leave your answers in the comments below and as always, stay Earthbound, friends!