At the end of The Many Saints of Newark, the petty hothead Junior Soprano (Corey Stoll) has the movie’s lead protagonist, Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola), killed, and many puzzled viewers are asking why. No doubt, The Many Saints of Newark wouldn’t be a mobster movie if it didn’t have a few creatively violent hit job-style killings; however, it most definitely wouldn’t be a Sopranos mobster movie, if some of those killings weren’t bafflingly trivial and senseless, as is the case with Moltisanti’s assassination at the end of The Sopranos’ sequel.
Releasing to theaters and streaming on HBO Max, The Many Saints of Newark follows the story of Dickie Moltisanti, the uncle and father figure of a young Tony Soprano (the titular lead of The Sopranos hit TV show), who finds himself trapped in a violent gang war rife with racial tension and personal animosity towards a sort of ex-partner, Harold McBrayer (Leslie Odom Jr.). Set during the 60s and 70s, The Many Saints of Newark precedes the events of The Sopranos by roughly 30 years, somewhat serving as an origin story for Tony Soprano whose complicated relationships with his prone-to-incarceration father, his emotionally cold mother, and, of course, his loving, yet unavailable uncle Dickie shape his feelings of insecurity and inadequacy, which he’ll spend a significant portion of his adulthood trying to excavate and understand in therapy.
One of Tony’s most complicated relationships is with his other uncle Junior, who seems functionally incapable of reciprocating Tony’s love. If Sopranos fans found Uncle Junior to be intolerable in the original show, they’re certain to find him even more detestable after The Many Saints of Newark‘s revealed that Junior assigned the hit on Dickie, effectively killing Tony’s favorite uncle — if not his favorite family member altogether. What’s worse is that Junior didn’t even have a good reason to kill Dickie, insomuch that there are “good reasons” to kill someone. Junior assigned the hit out of pure pettiness, presumably to enact vengeance against Dickie for laughing at Junior after the bespectacled Larry David-lookalike mobster fell and hurt his back on a short flight of stairs.
In an interview with Inverse, actor Stoll postulated that, “I don’t think he even really knew why he was doing it.” This is fitting of Junior’s character who, as established in the original Sopranos TV show, has an impulsive hot-headedness to him that often amplifies and manifests in petty squabbles taken too far. Whereas Moltisanti behaves within a well-reasoned, logical framework, even going so far as suppressing his love for his nephew Anthony Soprano per his moral judgment, Junior lacks such rationale. What’s particularly funny about Junior is how, despite his devious, occulted cunningness, his motivations seem to be almost purely juvenile and irrational. On the character of Junior Soprano, Stoll further explained, “There are motivations that are based on power dynamics and protecting oneself and protecting one’s turf. And then there’s this whole other sort of family of motivations, which is just about personal resentments and petty squabbles.”
Though many would have liked to see Moltisanti dead, what’s perhaps most tragic about his demise is its trivial nature. Certainly, in the brief moment between his assassination and the reveal of Junior as essentially the killer, most viewers likely assumed it was one of Harold’s goons that performed the hit. That would be logical. That would make sense, as the story up to this point seemed to suggest of an inevitable showdown between Moltisanti and Harold. However, as a true prequel to The Sopranos, a show rife with unpredictable, senseless killings, it only makes sense for the climactic death of The Many Saints Of Newark‘s protagonist to make little to no sense at all.