'Stranger Things' Season 4 Should Be About a Weird Disease From 1986

Watch out, Hawkins.

Children of the ‘80s and ‘90s, our pasts may come back to haunt us in a weird way with Stranger Things Season 4. Or, at least, I hope it does, because Stranger Things needs to get even stranger in its (potentially) final season. How can the hit Netflix series do that? By drawing our attention to a very weird and scary disease that began to proliferate across Britain and North America beginning in 1986. That disease? Mad Cow.

We may have lots of hints about where Season 4 will go thanks to a number of movies from 1986 that could predict the plot of the season. Also, important world events from that year, like Chernobyl, could have direct ties to existing future arcs. With Stranger Things venturing out of a small town (per Matt Duffer, who recently told Entertainment Weekly that Season 4 would “open up in terms of allowing plotlines into areas outside of Hawkins”), it’s important to still keep the show tied to Hawkins. Stranger Things can accomplish this by providing connections between the resurgence of Mad Cow disease in 1986 and what’s happened in previous seasons.

Speculative spoilers for Stranger Things Season 4 below.

The fact that there hasn’t been more widespread panic about what’s been going on in Hawkins since Season 1 is mind-boggling. Blackouts, weird rumors of a mysterious child running around Hawkins, disappearing residents, an unknown fungus destroying all of the crops on farms around Hawkins, and a likely permanent shutdown of the Starcourt Mall for reasons unconfirmed. These are just some of the events that have happened in Hawkins since Season 1. Any one of these happenings would get the entirety of a small town’s attention. How have the residents of Hawkins not gotten wise to what’s happening?

David Harbour as Sheriff Hopper in a field in 'Stranger Things'
Hopper investigates what is happening to the crops on various Hawkins farms.

Enter: Mad Cow disease. CNN’s timeline on the history of Mad Cow notes the first modern case of the disease was reported in Britain in 1986, but it wasn’t until 2003 the first North American case was reported. Even if there were no cases of Mad Cow in America during the year Season 4 takes place (1986), the anxiety over the disease making its way to America would surely hit Hawkins. This is a time when international tensions are high with Russia as the Cold War really kicks into high gear. Adding worry about a disease that would directly affect rural Indiana farmers and families in Hawkins feels like a reasonable development.

Having the town of Hawkins on high alert for trouble with the Reds and red meat implies a level of scrutiny in all areas of daily life. If one thing is out of place in this town, someone would surely notice. In this way, the emergence of Mad Cow disease as a real event can be woven into Stranger Things insofar as it helps get the rest of Hawkins clued into what’s actually going on in their town.

It’s fun to think about how Stranger Things will go global in Season 4, with implications of even more Russian involvement and several major characters leaving Hawkins. As exciting as that may be, we can’t forget that the end of Season 3 set up a storyline wherein all of Hawkins’ secrets were exposed. In the final 20 minutes of Episode 8, “The Battle of Starcourt,” a commercial was shown for an upcoming news program for a sensational episode aptly titled “Horror in the Heartland.” This episode seems like it will investigate what’s been going on in Hawkins, maybe even all the way back to Season 1 in 1983. If this storyline does get picked up in Season 4, it could play into the broader thematic strokes of mid-‘80s anxieties on the homefront, which would also include the emergence of Mad Cow.

'Cutting Edge' title card from 'Stranger Things'
The fictional news program 'Cutting Edge' is ready to expose Hawkins

Even if Mad Cow doesn’t come to Hawkins, its effects could still be felt, further tying into what feels like a reckoning for this tiny Indiana town. Between Mad Cow and the Cutting Edge episode on Hawkins, it seems like a lot of the town’s dirty laundry will finally be aired — and it will no doubt change Hawkins and its residents profoundly.


Stranger Things 3 is available to stream on Netflix now.

Media via Netflix, YouTube