Played By: Linda Cardellini
Episode Count: 3 (2 corporeal, 1 dream)
Role: An alternative to Topanga, harbinger of chaos
Signature Episodes: Heartbreak Cory, Torn Between Two Lovers (Feeling Like a Fool), The Psychotic Episode, (sort of) Girl Meets Pluto
It's season 5. Cory and Topanga are madly in love. Topanga just ran away from her parents (and Pittsburgh, but who can blame her) to be with Cory. There was an episode named The Last Temptation of Cory. That was the last one! They're rock solid!
Lauren seemingly does the impossible by steering Cory's heart away from Topanga Town, making her perhaps the most controversial character in Meets World. She defines the most notorious arc in the series. And the Breakup Arc doesn't only concern Topanga and Cory, as the fallout of the breakup extends to Shawn and Angela as well. So there is no doubt that Lauren's impact on the story and characters is colossal. Years later, in Girl Meets Pluto, Topanga explains that she felt threatened by Lauren, and stashed her letter in the time capsule, hoping she could tear it up without caring in the future, which she does. That's a pretty huge deal. Especially with how seriously the episode treats the concept of a time capsule. I mean Shawn put in the items that made him fall for Angela, and Cory put the denim jacket from What I Meant To Say. So Lauren's letter is in the same tier of significance as that stuff. It seems like that might be the real end of Lauren's effects on these people, but the mere mention of Lauren by her son in Meets Ski Lodge is still enough to get a rise out of Cory and Topanga.
All of this? With just two real episodes? That's insane.
But here's the thing, while Lauren has an immense effect on the story and characters, she isn't just a plot device. We get sucked in, just like Cory, because she's engaging, and entertaining, and fun. The audience is forced to feel the same conflict as Cory. This is a girl that any of us would want to spend all night talking to. This isn't a conniving homewrecker trying to seduce the male hero, this is a real issue, wondering if you might actually be happier with another person. Lauren's writing is a master stroke by Jacobs et al, especially in Torn Between Two Lovers. We see Cory and Lauren having their fun, goof-around date, a counterpoint to the strict, by-the-books Topanga. The Topanga relationship tends toward dramatic moments rather than fun, so the date with Lauren emphasizes the fact that this isn't so much a competition, but rather seeing what else is out there, what kinds of different relationships you can have. And it goes so far as to show Shawn, Amy, and Alan all admitting to each other that they like Lauren.
Ultimately, from Starry Night, The Psychotic Episode, and Girl Meets Pluto, we know that Lauren's real effect on Meets World is allowing both Cory and Topanga to learn, independently, that no one else will do, that there will never be anyone better for them than each other. To quote Cory directly from TBTL, "I don't have to be afraid of what I feel about anybody else because I know that it could never take away from loving you." That's huge.
To sum up, Lauren explodes into this series. EXPLODES. That is the best way I can describe it. From out of nowhere, we get this compelling character with clear personality, motivation, and goals, who changes the lives of four lead characters. In two (sort of three) episodes. Impressive.