Shmoop has a confession to make. When we were little, and would watch Die Hard over and over again while home sick from school and slurping chicken noodle soup, we seriously thought that Sergeant Powell was actually named Sergeant Pal. One "Welcome to the party, Pal," and we were convinced.
Wouldn't that be fitting, though? Al Powell is, after all, the ultimate pal, the perfect sidekick. He sticks by McClane's side through the entire movie, saves his butt on numerous occasions, defends McClane to his law enforcement doubters, and even saves the day one last time in the movie's final moments.
Dude gets it done.
Every Lone Ranger needs a Tonto, and that's just what Powell is to McClane. While they don't meet face-to-face until the final scene of the movie, Powell is the one who stays in most consistent communication with McClane throughout. And their conversations do a lot to reveal McClane's character—and Powell's, too, for that matter.
Powell's the one who gets McClane to open up about his wife. He helps McClane show his softer side, so we can see that our hero is more than just a gunslinger with attitude. The two discuss their families and their careers, and when McClane is at his lowest moment—bloody and beat up in the bathroom—Powell's in his ear, telling him not to give up. In fact, this scene pretty well sums up their entire relationship. Let's take a look:
McClane: Hey pal, you got flat feet?
Powell: What the hell are you talking about, man?
McClane: Something had to get you off the street.
Powell: What's the matter, you don't think jockeying papers across a desk is a noble effort for a cop?
Powell: I had an accident.
McClane: The way you drive, I can see why. What'd you do, run over your captain's foot with a car?
Powell: I shot a kid. He was thirteen years old. It was dark, I couldn't see him, he had a ray gun, looked real enough. You know, when you're a rookie, they can teach you everything about being a cop except how to live with a mistake. Anyway, I just couldn't bring myself to draw my gun on anybody again.
McClane: Sorry, man.
Powell: Hey, man, how could you know?
McClane: I feel like s*** anyway.
The conversation starts out smooth, with some clever banter that hints at the easy friendship they've slipped into. But then it takes a turn for the depressing, as Powell tells McClane his big mistake as a police officer.
Talk about sharing. This is some heavy stuff, and we're betting Powell feels pretty vulnerable divulging it to a stranger over the radio. It's a mark of their trust—and just how much they've come to value each other, too. After all, McClane feels "like s***" for something he had nothing to do with. That, ladies and gents, is empathy. Aw.
Powell as Plot Point
Powell's confession sets a few things in motion as well. McClane, who likes to keep the playing field even, uses his newfound closeness with Powell as an opportunity to confess his sins too. In their next scene, he tells Powell to deliver an apology to his wife in case he doesn't make it.
And, of course, Powell's admission gets his own redemption arc rolling, too. Now that we know he's afraid to brandish his weapon—and that's why he sits at a desk all day scarfing Twinkies—we know it's a big deal for him to shoot Karl in the movie's final scene. Much like McClane redeems himself and his marriage, his sidekick Powell redeems himself and his career, proving he can, in fact, "live with a mistake."
P.S. For more on those Twinkies, see "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory." For more of those Twinkies, please pay a visit your nearest 7-11.