Cheese must die! I feel very strongly about this, which is why I placed an exclamation point at the end of the previous sentence. Also, Marlo and Chris, but to repair a tear in the moral universe, Cheese must die, not only for betraying his uncle, Proposition Joe Stewart, but for participating in what we assume was the torture-murder of the man who invented the Swanson Hungry Man TV dinner. You know, it's a damn shame that Method Man, a stalwart of the remarkable Wu-Tang Clan, was cast as the most unspeakable bastard on The Wire. I'll never listen to Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) the same way. Not that I've listened to it in 10 years, but you get the point. What next? The RZA as a stoolie? (For the moment, he has my old job at The New Yorker.)
Sorry, back to the coldest execution scene this side of Abe Vigoda. Actually, colder, because, really, did you care that much about Tessio? Clemenza, yes, of course, but Tessio? I liked Abe Vigoda (still alive! www.abevigoda.com) better in Fish, anyway.
That was an extraordinarily powerful scene, the martyrdom of Prop Joe. "Close your eyes. It won't hurt none," Marlo said, and my blood froze. It's true that Tom Hagen's "Can't do it, Sally" marked one of the most unforgettable moments in The Godfather, but Marlo seemed to actually embody the Angel of Death. Prop Joe's murder also has a metaphorical power missing from Tessio's demise. What we just saw, I think, was a David Simon op-ed on the miseries of capitalism. The rising young executive learns what he can from his elders and then kills them. In corporate America, the murder victim is left alive, as opposed to what happens in the New Day Co-Op (there's an organization that just ceased to exist—I'll bet my lungs on that), but except for that technical issue, it's the same thing.
I think we can spend all day unpacking the meaning of Prop Joe's execution, but let me make one larger point: What we saw in the undoing of Prop Joe was The Wire at its best. What we saw in the Baltimore Sun subplot this time around was The Wire at its worst. Prop Joe and Slim Charles and all the rest are complicated people; it's too bad David Simon couldn't make the newsroom similarly complicated. The editors of the Sun aren't characters; they're walking indictments. The low moment came when Klebanow warned Gus against cursing in the newsroom. Ridiculous. I'm not saying that once or twice between John Peter Zenger and now, some shmuck in some newsroom somewhere warned a colleague about the use of foul language. But for fuck's sake, that was the most unbelievable thing I've seen in The Wire's five seasons.