Warning: Spoilers Ahead
Six criminals band together to rob one of the largest security firms in the world. A story of betrayal, greed and suspense combine to create “Kaleidoscope” — a modern version of the classic heist story created by Eric Garcia.
Yet, this eight-episode miniseries, released by Netflix on Jan. 1, has one factor that sets it apart from others in the genre: it follows a non-linear format. All episodes are shuffled in an order unique to the viewer.
Here’s how the show works: each episode is a color, which mimics the multi-colored aspect of a kaleidoscope, the show’s namesake. Every viewer starts with “Black,” a minute-long trailer explaining the concept, and ends with “White,” the universal series finale. The middle episodes are all randomly shuffled. This creates a different watching experience for each viewer. With there being 5,040 possible episode combinations, viewers are tasked with solving their own distinctive puzzle as the season progresses. With a fascinating concept but an overall confusing outcome, “Kaleidoscope” makes for a bold and occasionally disappointing watch.
The series is led by Giancarlo Esposito, who portrays master thief Ray Vernon. Vernon is a family man with a talent for theft, but his double life backfires when a heist goes wrong and results in the death of his wife. Because of this, Vernon is arrested and separated from his young daughter, Hannah. Meanwhile, his heist partner, played by Rufus Sewell, remains free and goes on to become Roger Salas, CEO of the security firm SLS.
This backstory, which is portrayed in the episode “Violet,” is the catalyst for all the events that follow. Vernon ends up escaping from prison and adopts the name “Leo Pap.” Over the years, he assembles a crew and plots his revenge on Roger Salas in the form of an elaborate heist. Yet this time, Vernon’s focus is not stealing money — he sets out to rob Salas of the life Vernon never got.
Giancarlo Esposito is the obvious standout in the series. Best known for his role as narcotics dealer Gustavo Fring in “Breaking Bad,” Esposito has received critical acclaim for his complex and layered performances. His work in “Kaleidoscope” is no exception. Esposito’s portrayal of Ray Vernon adds much-needed depth, providing the master thief with subtle vulnerability and allowing the audience to sympathize with him. He flawlessly paints the portrait of a bitter and broken man whose past continues to haunt him for the next 24 years.
Roger Salas acts as the perfect foil to Esposito’s Vernon. Sewell portrays the villainous Salas as calm, calculated and complicated. He is not oblivious to his wrongdoings but is determined to maintain his clean image and move on from the past. Meanwhile, Vernon, the one who actually suffered the consequences, refuses to let the past be forgotten.
However, despite the unique format, “Kaleidoscope” still falls victim to overdramatic clichés and confusing story arcs. Many lines felt unnecessarily melodramatic, robbing the show and characters of realism or relatability.
In some ways, it would be unfair to review the show based solely on the story arc. Depending on the order assigned, one’s perception of the plot may be altered in a positive or negative way. But what the show intended to be its main strength may be its greatest weakness. The shuffled order splices important development, potentially leaving viewers confused by the motivations and intentions of the characters.
While the two leads put on fascinating performances, the supporting characters fail to catch up. From Bob Goodwin’s one-dimensional characterization to RJ Acosta’s pointless development, there seems to be a lack of growth across the characters. Multiple plotlines fell short of their potential, and the ending failed to tie up any loose ends the series had.
In spite of its shortcomings, “Kaleidoscope” introduces a novel way of watching shows in the streaming era. Streaming platforms now have the freedom to alter the viewing experience based on the format of the show. As binging becomes the more dominant medium for watching television, platforms may begin to shift towards original concepts for more creative forms of watching.