Kaleidoscope arrives on Netflix with not one gimmick but two. As the title suggests, colors play a major role in the heist drama, the creation of Matchstick Men author Eric Garcia. Each episode bears the name of a different hue, which in turn figures heavily into the episode’s visual scheme. But the show’s title also refers to a device that mixes and matches colors to form new patterns, which Kaleidoscope encourages its viewers to do as well. How? Apart from “White,” designed as the eight-episode season’s finale, Kaleidoscope can be watched in any order — or as Netflix puts it, “the order in which they watch the episodes will affect their viewpoint on the story, the characters, and the questions and answers at the heart of the heist.” Each selection, in other words, will give viewers a different experience of watching the show.
Just how many different experiences are possible? If you follow the rules and save “White” for last, there are 5,040 possible combinations of the seven episodes leading up to it. Rule-breakers who throw the finale into the mix have a mind-boggling 40,320 ways to watch Kaleidoscope.
In keeping with the spirit of the series, let’s assume there’s no ideal Kaleidoscope viewing order. But surely some ways of watching are better than others, right? Here are a few options and the pros and cons presented by each. (We’re going to go light on spoilers, too, since surprise is pretty key to enjoying the show in any order.)
Succumb to the Randomness
Viewing order: ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, “White.”
This is how I, your Kaleidoscope guinea pig, watched the series. Specifically, I watched “Red” followed by “Yellow,” “Violet,” “Green,” “Blue,” “Orange,” “Pink,” and then “White.” And while I’d love to report that the series achieved its experimental goals, it honestly felt like watching a series out of order. Each episode opens with a narrator setting up what’s to come, which creates a sense that any episode could be the first. But the experience is more disorienting than revealing.
By starting with “Red,” an episode set in the immediate aftermath of the central heist depicted in “White,” the intended finale, I mostly found myself wondering, Who are these people and what do they want? (Also, Why is Giancarlo Esposito in a camouflage wetsuit?) By the end, Kaleidoscope has connected all the narrative dots, but watching the episodes randomly, or at least in the random combination I chose, doesn’t cast the events in a different light so much as delay explaining what’s going on. There’s a little burst of pleasure that comes from, say, finally figuring out why that pink stuffed animal is so significant. Kaleidoscope is full of such moments, but none of them really reshape our understanding of the characters or force us to rethink what we’ve seen before.
Does that make it a failed experiment? Nah. The random approach ultimately gels into a (mostly) satisfying story. It also sometimes yields memorable moments of dramatic irony. When one character says of the big score, “We’ve got a chance to fix everything that went wrong in our lives,” viewers know how wrong he is. (Or maybe they don’t. It depends on which episode they watched in the lead-up.) Still, the confusion generated along the way often seems kind of pointless, and anyone looking for Kaleidoscope to offer a revolution in how TV storytelling works will likely be disappointed.
Watch the Story Chronologically
Viewing order: “Violet,” “Green,” “Yellow,” “Orange,” “Blue,” “Red,” “Pink,” “White”
Again, Kaleidoscope’s episodes are said to be designed to be watched in any order except “White,” which is intended to be seen last even though “Red” and “Pink” take place, respectively, one day and six months after the heist. So we’ve placed it at the end according to the creator’s wishes. (But hey, it’s a show about a bunch of master criminals. Would they follow the rules? Watch it third from the end if you want the true chronological experience.)
The series’ plot spans 24 years, and this path takes viewers from the story’s beginning to its end. At the heart is a conflict between master thief Leo Pap (Giancarlo Esposito) and Roger Salas (Rufus Sewell), the head of a security company whose holdings include an ultrahigh-tech bank vault in the heart of Manhattan. For personal reasons, Leo assembles a crew of (at least) five criminals, each with their own area of expertise, to relieve Leo of $7 billion dollars of unsecured bearer bonds — just like in Die Hard, as one character points out (a nod to one of Kaleidoscope’s inspirations).
Watching Kaleidoscope chronologically is probably the clearest path through its story but not necessarily the most satisfying. Watching this way, viewers immediately learn Leo and Roger’s history together, why Leo’s animosity runs so deep, and the significance of one of Leo’s employees. But these feel like revelations best found out later on.
Watch the Story in Reverse
Viewing order: “Pink,” “Red,” “Blue,” “Orange,” “Yellow,” “Green,” “Violet,” “White”
This might be an even more radical way to watch Kaleidoscope. Where watching in random order clears up some mysteries sooner than others, this approach maximizes the confusion. By beginning six months after the events of “White,” you’ll watch characters die only to be reborn one episode later. You’ll see characters sharing beds with one another only to realize they’ve traded partners at some point earlier in the story. And you won’t find out why Leo is so determined to take Roger down until the end of the penultimate episode (again, assuming you’re going to save “White” for last). The old become young (with some CGI assistance)! The young become children or disappear from the story entirely! It’s madness! Think Ocean’s Eleven crossed with Irreversible (but without the latter’s most harrowing moments).
Watch the Heist First
Viewing order: “White,” ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?
Hmmm … an intriguing idea, but one that has all the disadvantages of watching the show in backward chronological order and none of the advantages. It’s a bit like looking at a crossword puzzle’s solution and then trying to solve the puzzle. It’s hard to recommend this approach, but it’s not like we can stop you from trying it, either. It’s your Netflix account (assuming you’re not sharing somebody’s password, that is).
Just Watch the Heist
Viewing order: “White”
We’re really breaking the rules now! Kaleidoscope is structured so every episode builds up to the big heist at the heart of the story. So maybe just watch the big heist instead? Not recommended: While “White” is one of Kaleidoscope’s stronger episodes, much of the pleasure comes from watching the team’s elaborate prep work pay off. If you don’t know that they’ve been worried about getting past a high-tech “gait detector” designed to identify those who pass through it by their distinctive stride, the ingenious solution to the problem won’t be nearly as satisfying. The episode’s final shot, one of the series’ best touches, will be absolutely meaningless, too. Besides, “White” is hardly the only episode of Kaleidoscope with a heist or caper of some kind. Individual episodes offer different crime thriller flavors (or, maybe more appropriately, shades) along the way, including an episode built around a daring daytime jewelry-store robbery and featuring a prison break.
Watch Every Episode But the One With the Big Heist
Viewing order: ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, then never watch “White”
This approach is kind of perverse, but it might be the right kind of perverse for some viewers. Maybe there’s some pleasure to be had in watching everything but the payoff and letting the mystery be. Could the real Kaleidoscope finale be better than the one in your head?
The Order I Wish I’d Watched In
Viewing order: “Yellow,” “Violet,” “Orange,” “Green,” “Blue,” “Red,” “Pink,” “White”
When viewers click on the Kaleidoscope landing page, they’ll find the episodes presented in a random order with “White” as the finale serving as the only constant. But again, nothing says you have to follow that order.
Here’s how I wish I’d watched Kaleidoscope: “Yellow,” in which Leo assembles his ragtag team of misfits (which includes Paz Vega, Rosaline Elbay, Peter Mark Kendall, and Jordan Mendoza), is absolutely the best place to begin the story. The episode introduces all the major characters while leaving some details of their past and why they’re on the team in the first place in the shadows. It’s brisk and intriguing.
Start there, then alternate “Violet” and “Green,” the two flashback episodes, with “Orange” and “Blue,” episodes that move the story toward the heist chronologically. Then watch “Red” and “Pink,” two episodes set in the aftermath of the heist. They’ll be a bit confusing but just the right amount of confusing. Then let “White” fill in the blanks and, ta-da, you’re ready to watch whatever’s next in your Netflix queue. We hear the new season of Too Hot to Handle is quite thought-provoking (though it probably makes sense just to watch that one in order).