I remember watching The Worst Person in the World (2021) with a friend about a year back. And if there’s one thing I remembered from our discussion afterwards, was a comment he made on the viewing experience: “I wish they didn’t split it for us into chapters.” For the uninitiated, the highly-lauded film is split into 12 chapters—including the prologue and epilogue—each one with a title, almost as if they were meant to frame our perception of each chapter. For what it’s worth, whilst I don’t think it affected my personal impression of the film as much, perhaps I’m choosing to recall the conversation now, especially after watching Netflix’s latest experimental-format-meets-heist-thriller: Kaleidoscope.
With the eight-part series created by Eric Garcia, its curious format had been its initial hook: each chapter—titled after a different colour—is randomised in no particular order across all Netflix accounts. All except for the actual heist episode, titled ‘White’, which consistently concludes the series no matter how you watched the previous episodes. And so with each preceding episode before ‘White’, the narrative delves into a different point in time surrounding the heist—from 24 years prior to six months after.
The idea of a randomised order that invites audiences to attempt at their own personal watching sequence, is admittedly a novel attempt at playing around with what the modern age of streaming services offers to us all. But perhaps the question at hand is: does it necessarily make for an optimal viewing experience? And is the use of a heist plot—where narrative holes and lapses in time often make for useful moving devices instead—the only way around the format?
For the most part of the show, I kept wondering if there was a point to the entire experience. After all, each episode automatically begins with a framing marker that tells you exactly where you stand on the timeline of the heist; take ‘Yellow’ for example where you’ll be watching the events exactly six weeks before the big day, unfold. In this vein then, every time you began a new episode, you were already privy to what you would be gleaning from the next 40 or so minutes. At ‘Green’, 7 years before the heist, you could expect the initial seeds of the big heist being planted. At ‘Violet’, 24 years prior, it was starkly clear that the tragic past shared between our leading man, Leo Pap (Giancarlo Esposito), and the main antagonist Roger Salas (Rufus Sewell), were about to be revealed.
At this point, I began to understand the sentiments my friend had shared regarding the Cannes film favourite; was there a real point in jumbling up the sequence when each episode had already been so precisely framed on the timeline for us? What’s more, is that apart from the knowledge of the timeline, each episode also almost seems to ‘belong’ to different key players in the overarching plot; there’s one that focuses on the back story of the cop Nazzan Abassi, and one for the team’s troublemaker Bob Goodwin. What this implies then, is that although the turn order might be jumbled up, each episode already has a specific narrative frame around it, making it easier for each part to be seen as a separate entity on its own. It removes a crucial plot device of some of the greatest crime thrillers out there: the suspense.
Each episode brings with it a potential mini climax within it, but for the most part, it’s somewhat always resolved within the same episode. It may be a “conclusion” that leads you to believe something has happened or someone in the team was a bad rat, but it’s a conclusion nonetheless. In short, any potential for cliffhangers or room for the audience to truly desire what comes next, has been removed. It’s not necessarily a bad or wrong move, but what it does demand in response then, is the need for a compelling crew of characters that makes you want to root for them—which unfortunately, Kaleidoscope falls short in, with some of the characters (such as RJ) feeling more like convenient plot fillers than anything else.
All that being said, it’s not that Kaleidoscope completely falters in its execution; in fact, it’s still understandably easy to fall for the post-viewing revelations where viewers recall and compare their experiences of the show from start-to-end. Some might be more sympathetic towards Bob throughout the entire eight episodes should ‘Pink’ have been their point of entry, whilst others who decide to botch the order and go with the chronological timeline instead might have been more focused on the process of guessing who betrayed who.
What it does reveal so blatantly, however, is the undying importance of a show’s ability to persuade its audiences—so much so that we would be convinced by the why, and not so much the how. If future seasons of Kaleidoscope were slated to occur, perhaps the interactive format requires a deeper framework of its own; one that questions why its order sequence might actually matter in the telling of a single narrative. And who’s to say it should be limited to the plot of a heist? A beguiling romance of two lovers, for one, might make for a worthwhile challenge for all we know.
So whilst Kaleidoscope might just have been reaching to strike a balance on too many fronts with this first run, perhaps all it really needs is a full blown commitment to truly understanding the interactive format it so wilfully desires, before it can actually be transformed into something as exciting and experiential as it hopes to be.
Watch Kaleidoscope on Netflix.