Based on what we've seen in the flashbacks on this series, almost everybody on the island had a difficult time before, during, and (in some cases) after their time on the island. But right now, it's hard to picture somebody who's had it worse than Michael Dawson.
He had a major struggle with his wife after Walt was born, he lost custody of his child in a bitter battle, his relationship with Walt on the island is sullen, and finally manages to solidify when he builds a rescue boat. The Others then blow up the boat, and take Walt prisoner. Michael moves heaven and earth to get his son back, which involves killing two women and betraying all the other survivors of the crash. He finally manages to reunite with his son, but the guilt is too much for him and he confesses, at which point Walt says he wants nothing to do with him.
Almost everybody on the island is looking for some kind of redemption., but now Michael can no longer have that. So he looks for the only way left open to him --- which appears to be death. However, then he runs into Tom, of all people.. Who tells him something that we haven't known, but may have suspected --- if someone needs to do something for the island, it won't let them die. It explains how Locke has managed to survive every attack he's taken so far, why Ben took such a horrible beating, and could possibly be the reason that Jack was unable to kill himself in the first flashforward we saw in Season 3.
During the flashback, the news that the fake Oceanic 815 has been recovered is broadcast. Tom then reveals that the man responsible for the cover up was none other than Charles Widmore, and that he dug up a mass grave in order to come up with 324 bodies. We won't find out how this happened until Season 5, but it does seem that Widmore was responsible. What's not clear is how he found that kind resources, but then Widmore does have access to a lot of things.
Tom then tells Michael that his mission is to take out all of the people on that freighter, and sends him to Fiji with a fake passport. While some of the people on the freighter seem familiar (albeit creepy), it is not until he meets Kearny and Omar firing machine guns that he comes to realize just how dangerous this particular mission is. He then prepares to use a bomb to blow the ship sky high--- only to find out that it's yet another cruel test orchestrated by Ben. All of these scenes carry their own kind of agony, but the worst comes when Michael finally gets a message from the mainland from Walt, only to pick it up and hear Ben on the other end. Ben then tells Michael in that condescending way of his that he will do what he has to do, but he won't kill innocent people. He just gives the orders or allows them to happen. Michael than listens to one more set of marching orders, and Michael finishes up looking utterly crushed, as if he's been denied redemption one more time.
Michael then tells a very truncated version of this story to Sayid (the entire episode is basically a flashback, so it's hard to know exactly how much he actually told) and Sayid waits all of two seconds before taking Michael right over to the captain and telling everybody that he's is the traitor. (I wouldn't get comfortable in my ivory tower, Sayid). Like everyone else on the island, he cares little for someone else's redemption. Granted, he's still trying to save all of his friends, but considering just how violent the captain has been towards his own crew, it's still a pretty lousy thing for him to do.
Meanwhile, back on the island, Ben has finally revealed his secrets, which doesn't help Locke's position much, as everyone (even Miles, who's only been there a week) can tell than Ben has just maneuver himself back into a position of power. He then sends Alex out to the temple, where he told Richard (speaking of which, where is Richard?) to take the others when he got separated from him way back in season 3, and allows Karl and Rousseau to go with her. He's trying to protect her, but in doing so, all he does is guarantee than they all meet their end a bit quicker. Karl is killed in the jungle, and though we won't learn it for certain for a couple of more episodes, Rousseau has died too. All Ben's done is make sure that his daughter saw her boyfriend and mother get killed in front of her--- he couldn't have thought up a crueler fate if he'd arranged it himself. But there are far worse things ahead for Ben and everybody else in the barracks.
This episode is perhaps at its best when it follows Perrineau. He's always been an expressive actor, and in this episode, he pretty much has to be, as so many of the scenes he's in have no dialogue. He manages to show an entire range of emotions on it, from hope to desperation to guilt towards complete defeat. It's not clear (even now) if Michael will ever find the redemption or the peace that he has sought, but for a man who was willing to die for his son, somehow I can't believe fate has finished telling the whole story with him.
My score: 8