Depressed at the thought of her upcoming birthday, Suzanne gets into an argument with Julia over how old she actually is. While Julia stresses that Suzanne is turning 30 years old and not the 29 she is claiming, Charlene takes a phone call that turns out to be good news and a surprise for Mary Jo. Charlene enthusiastically states that she has agreed to sponsor a girl in the Miss Pre-Teen Atlanta contest through her sideline cosmetic business, Kemper Cosmetics, and goes on to add that the girl she sponsored was chosen as an entrant ---- Claudia Shively! Shocked at the news, Mary Jo thanks Charlene for her interest, but declines the offer. She feels that beauty contests exploit the girls and promote the wrong kind of values. Having won many beauty contests herself, Suzanne points out the opportunities and scholarships available to the winner. Reluctantly, Mary Jo gives in.
When her daughter is chosen as one of the five finalists at the preliminary contest, all reluctance Mary Jo had initially felt is swept away. With only minutes to go, the four Sugarbaker's women work with Claudia to get her ready for the final judging. Suzanne coaches Claudia on how to walk and smile, while Charlene is applying her makeup. The moment arrives when Claudia is called on-stage to be interviewed in front of the judges. Her response is slow and thoughtful at first as she tries to give the "right" answer. But she gains courage and decides to be truthful. She tells the judges that she normally doesn't look the way she does tonight, and she longs to be a dancer, and feels she should not be in the contest. She thanks everyone and exits the stage to thunderous applause, while a tearful Mary Jo proudly watches from the audience.
The women honor Suzanne with a party to celebrate her birthday. Included in her gifts from Julia is Suzanne's birth certificate --- without a birthdate on it! Julia also claims that her own birth certificate is the same --- as was their mother's gift to them. The party soon draws to a close and as Mary Jo and Claudia are about to leave, Suzanne removes a tiara from her purse and places it on Claudia's head. Everyone agrees in unison as Suzanne fondly tells Claudia that she showed a great deal of class and courage by speaking her feelings. Bidding each other a warm good-bye, Julia closes the front door after Suzanne departs, quietly stating that Suzanne IS 30 --- but though she is outside, Suzanne hears and replies through the door.......29!!!
This episode introduces Priscilla Weems and Brian Lando as Mary Jo's children, Claudia and Quinton. These characters remain recurring regulars throughout the first two seasons, and then appear randomly thereafter.
The closing credits for this episode are aired over black and white photos from Delta Burke's actual pageant days, including shots of her as Miss Florida, set to Stevie Wonder's Isn't She Lovely.
Mary Jo only gives in and allows Claudia to participate in the pageant after Claudia begs her -- promising to get good grades in school and to keep her room clean.
The scene where Suzanne is coaching Claudia to walk and smile actually takes place at Sugarbaker's, rather than minutes before the judging as stated in the synopsis.
A major part of the episode not mentioned in the summary involves Suzanne's feelings that she is nothing but an aging beauty queen with outdated ideas, and that she has nothing else to offer. This leads to one of the most memorable scenes of the entire series where Julia tells off Marjorie, which is why many people refer to this episode as The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia rather than by its title.
We learn in this episode that Julia is fourteen years older than Suzanne. However, by Season Four's Julia Gets Her Head Stuck in a Fence, the age difference has been reduced to twelve years.
The dressing rooms behind the pageant.......
JULIA: Hurry up, Suzanne. We're gonna miss Claudia.
SUZANNE: I'm just touching up. She's right, y'know -- nobody does twirl a baton anymore. You know what I am, Julia? I'm an aging professional beauty queen. And turning......29 tomorrow has made me admit for the first time -- I have no other talent.
JULIA: Oh, come on. That's not true.
SUZANNE: Yes it is. This is what I spent my whole life doing. I know in my heart it's been a frivilous thing, but I'm not like you. You can do anything. This is all I was born for. When I was a little girl, whenever I'd see a tiara I'd just start to breathe hard. And all I could think was, "I want that crown to be on my head." I'll never forget walking down those runways --- the way the roses felt in my arms and the roar of the crowd. (sobbing lightly) They loved me. Now it's all over, and I just don't know if life can ever be that good again.
(Suzanne rushes out as Marjorie and another woman enter. They don't see Julia.......)
WOMAN: Who was that?
MARJORIE: Suzanne Sugarbaker. Don't you remember her? (motioning to swooping hair)......Miss Georgia World 1976.
WOMAN: Oh yeah!! The one with the big hair!
MARJORIE: Right! And the joke was they found Jimmy Hoffa in it. (laughing) Do you know she showed up to this year's pageant and gave a two hour lecture on manners, cuss words, and how not to cross your legs.
MARJORIE: Yes. It was so embarassing. Maybe we should go back out. They're on the last interview.
(the second woman leaves the room, and Julia stand up and closes the door slightly.....)
JULIA: Excuse me, aren't you Marjorie Leigh Winick, the current Miss Georgia World?
MARJORIE: Why, yes I am.
JULIA: I'm Julia Sugarbaker, Suzanne Sugarbaker's sister. I couldn't help over hearing part of your conversation.
MARJORIE: Well, I'm sorry. I didn't know anyone was here.
JULIA: Yes, and I gather from your comments there are a couple of other things you don't know, Marjorie. For example, you probably didn't know that Suzanne was the only contestant in Georgia pageant history to sweep every category except congeniality, and that is not something the women in my family aspire to anyway.
MARJORIE: That's really not.....
JULIA: Or that when she walked down the runway in her swimsuit, five contestants quit on the spot.
MARJORIE: That's really......
JULIA: Or that when she emerged from the isolation booth to answer the question, "What would you do to prevent war?" she spoke so eloquently of patriotism, battlefields and diamond tiaras, grown men wept.
(Suzanne starts to enter, but hearing the conversation, steps back and listens from outside, meanwhile Julia starts to get louder --- walking toward Marjorie and backing her in. )
MARJORIE: That's really something that.........
JULIA: And you probably didn't know, Marjorie, that Suzanne was not just any Miss Georgia, she was the Miss Georgia. She didn't twirl just a baton, that baton was on fire. And when she threw that baton into the air, it flew higher, further, faster than any baton has ever flown before, hitting a transformer and showering the darkened arena with sparks! And when it finally did come down, Marjorie, my sister caught that baton, and 12,000 people jumped to their feet for sixteen and one-half minutes of uninterrupted thunderous ovation, as flames illuminated her tear-stained face! And that, Marjorie --- just so you will know --- and your children will someday know --- is the night the lights went out in Georgia!
(Suzanne smiles --- touched--- and leaves quietly with no one having seen her)
MARJORIE: (quietly) I'm sorry. I didn't know.
JULIA:: (standing tall and smuggly with a satisfied smile) Well............now you do.
Back at Julia's house...
JULIA: Ta da!
SUZANNE: What's this?
JULIA: It's your birth certificate. I found it in an old cedar chest at home.
SUZANNE: Well there's no date on it.
JULIA: I know. Mine's the same way. That was Mother's gift to us. Look at how old she was when you were born.
JULIA: According to this, Mother is now a year younger than me.
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