How ‘Kaleidoscope’ Weaved Together a Story About Obsession, Healing and Family Through a Daring Caper

More than 10 years ago, Hurricane Sandy wiped away $70 billion-worth bonds when an underground vault owned by Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation was flooded, with no trace as to where they went. Two years later, writer-producer Eric Garcia separately formulated an idea for a series that could be viewed in randomized order, he wrote in an email at the time to a director friend of his. These two disparate strands would eventually come together to unlock “Kaleidoscope,” Netflix’s nonlinear heist show starring Giancarlo Esposito as the mastermind behind a high-stakes vault robbery.

“I said, ‘I don’t think we need to watch shows in order, necessarily, and I don’t know how this is going to work out, but I have this one-page concept of what to do,’” Garcia, who created the show, recalled in an interview with TheWrap. “And over time, when I started exploring it, we started bringing them together and realized that this structure was maybe the best way to tell a story about heists in which characters aren’t necessarily who they say they are, don’t necessarily have the motivations they think they have. And you could get at it from different angles.”

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Indeed, Netflix touts that there are 5,040 possible viewing orders for the thriller-drama, served up to the viewer according to the streamer’s algorithms, with “White” set for everyone as the definitive series finale.

“‘White’ is the only one where if you watched it first, I think you would be like ‘What is happening?’ It’s all twisting and answers and things that you find out that really recontextualizes the thing we’ve seen before,” Garcia explained.

To properly craft the show’s structure and anthology-like, self-contained episodes, Garcia said his writers room approached each installment with fresh eyes, building narratives that would make sense for viewers who were entering the story at that particular moment in time.

“Every episode had a different whiteboard; we had a ton of whiteboards, and we had a lot of string,” Garcia said. “And we would be like, ‘How do we pilot?’ We would test that out each time. We could not test all 5,040 ways to watch the show clearly, but we could at least say ‘OK, if we start with this one, what do we think about the characters?’ And we would literally do, ‘If you start with this episode, what is the show about?’”

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Chronologically, “Kaleidoscope” takes place over a quarter of a century, beginning with 24 years before the big caper and reaching through six months after the vault heist. With each color-specific episode, Garcia was intentional about how audiences might perceive the crux of the overarching story: For example, if a viewer forays into the show with “Violet” — the origin story episode — their understanding of “Kaleidoscope” is colored by the betrayal suffered by a young thief attempting to do right by his family; if “Yellow” is the starting point, “Kaleidoscope” is about the ragtag crew itself being assembled, “Money Heist”-style. With each episode, Garcia also drew from countless crime drama predecessors.

“‘Red’ is very much our ‘Reservoir Dogs’ episode so to speak, ‘Yellow’ is much more in the ‘Oceans’ slash ‘Italian Job’ kind of caper thing,” he explained. “In ‘Pink,’ we started getting into the darker Soderbergh-y stuff and even things like ‘Point Blank.’ ‘Violet’ is — one of my favorite films is ‘Thief,’ Michael Mann. ‘Orange’ hits sort of on the ‘Heat’ stuff. And then ‘White’ is the grandfather of them all, is ‘Rififi.’”

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“Kaleidoscope” sticks to genre-specific tropes while also interweaving a story of redemption, vengeance, generational trauma and healing, largely through the strained relationship between Esposito’s Ray Vernon/Leo Pap and his daughter, Hannah (Tati Gabrielle), who is unwittingly caught in the middle of his criminal endeavors.

“The thing about all of these characters and what I think the structure speaks to and really what we’re trying to do with the show, is about how we are all circular creatures, we cannot get out of our own way,” Garcia said. “We all have our addictions. We all have our needs, whether they’re our obsessions, whether that’s revenge, or whatever it happens to be.”

Esposito, a veteran character actor and five-time Emmy nominee for “Breaking Bad,” echoed Garcia’s sentiments, saying, “Leo’s journey is someone who was trying to put his demons behind and live a quiet, upstanding life, but I had to let go of the idea of what people may think. And isn’t that so much of what we have to do to have confidence in ourselves no matter what age today?”

Kaleidoscope. (L to R) Giancarlo Esposito as Leo Pap, Tati Gabrielle as Hannah Kim in episode “Yellow” of Kaleidoscope. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022
Kaleidoscope. (L to R) Giancarlo Esposito as Leo Pap, Tati Gabrielle as Hannah Kim in episode “Yellow” of Kaleidoscope. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

Gabrielle, who is best known for her scene-stealing turns in “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” “You” and “Uncharted,” said she was excited to channel “any little idiosyncrasy” in the series’ “scavenger hunt”-like format to her character’s portrayal, describing Hannah as someone who has to remain neutral and calm to others while carrying heaps of emotional baggage and information. “She’s got the weight of the world on her shoulders, but is walking so airily,” the actress said.

She continued, “As [Hannah] comes to understand, or attempts to understand why Ray did the things that he did, she softens and is able to carry that little girl [her past] with more power.”

Just as Hannah is able to break through the cycle of hurt and revenge carried in her family, Esposito said playing Leo/Ray was cathartic for his own personal journey. Initially, the actor deeply pondered the show’s unique format before putting that aside to focus more on his character’s emotional maturation.

“Because I realized that to live in the moment is the most precious thing. I was really excited about going back in time 24 years and at one point it was thought that maybe that couldn’t happen,” the actor said, recalling his Broadway turn in Stephen Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along,” which also traces the relationships between characters throughout several decades.

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He continued, “The exciting part of this journey for me was to hold all the information from all of the episodes; now as I become more mature in life, I realize that I’m looking back over my life more than I’m looking to cultivate or know what the rest of it will be … Imagine all of those experiences having to be held in this one moment. And that was the wonderful and fascinating thing about ‘Kaleidoscope.’ You had all of these elements that made up a person, all of our people, all of the characters, relationships, and you get a chance to really get underneath that and understand what these relationships are, how they threaten each other, how they inform each other, how they support each other, how they fail each other.”

Esposito, who has four daughters, said he could empathize with Leo’s missteps as a “parent who is unsure that you’re making the right moves, that you’re showing the right part of yourself.” That personal connection helped him grow both as a performer and individual, and is something he believes can help others move on.

“We all have our own family journey, but this is going to play into healing for a lot of what people have missed in their lives and hold on their back and take with them in anger and resentment,” he said. “It helped me let it go. And it helped me create great entertainment and with a great scene partner that I think is going to be heartfelt.”

“Kaleidoscope” is now streaming on Netflix.

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