What The Daily Show With Jon Stewart billed as “the week-long feud of the century” almost ended in a very funny fizzle: Instead of being his usual feisty self, financial advisor Jim Cramer could not apologize fast enough to Stewart for what he repeatedly called his “shenanigans” as host of CNBC’s Mad Money.

Note I said “almost,” because something pretty amazing happened. Things got dead-serious as Stewart played 2006 clips of Cramer talking about how to manipulate stocks and create Wall Street rumors during the time he was a hedge-fund manager. You could almost see the blood drain from Cramer’s face every time the camera returned to him in the studio with Stewart. Talking about the present-day crisis, Stewart tore into Cramer, saying for doing things like urging his viewers to buy Bear Stearns stock shortly before that investment bank collapsed. “It’s not a f—— game,” said Stewart, asserting that what Cramer and other financial reporters did could be considered “criminal at worst.”

Yes, the half-hour (embedded below, in three parts) was frequently hilarious. Showing a clip of Cramer using a rolling-pin on some pie crust with Martha Stewart on her TV show earlier in the day, the Daily Show host said, “Don’t you destroy enough dough on your own show?”

Stewart allowed as how he and Cramer are, as TV entertainers, “both snake-oil salesmen to a certain extent.” He said that in all the joking and sniping that had been done over the past few weeks about financial news reporting on TV, Cramer had “become the face of this, and that’s incredibly unfortunate.” Cramer said meekly, “I’ll try” to do better by the public in the future.

But the dismantling of Cramer’s reputation had been done. The audience kept interrupting with applause and cheers, and for once it didn’t come across as a matter of hey-our-guy-just-pounded-a-jerk. It sounded like a small explosion of relief that finally, someone on TV was making sense about what has happened to money in America, and it wasn’t Jim Cramer.