Netflix’s ‘Kaleidoscope’ episode orders aren’t actually that random


Netflix is not afraid of a gimmick — from game-like interactive shows to its upcoming Nike fitness integration. But it appears that the streaming giant may have hedged its bets a little on its latest storytelling innovation.

Kaleidoscope, a Netflix original series that dropped on Jan. 1, tells the story of a high-stakes heist years in the making that (as always) doesn’t go down exactly as planned. But instead of just relying on a pacy story and solid cast — including Giancarlo Esposito, Rufus Sewell, Jai Courtenay, Tati Gabrielle, and more — the series has an extra trick up its sleeve. The episodes aren’t numbered, only color-coded, and are structured in such a way that they can be watched in any order (not counting “Black”, the intro which explains the gimmick). Netflix’s only “rule” is that “White”, the heist itself, is designed to be the finale.

However, despite Netflix’s claim that “Netflix members each [have] a different immersive viewing experience,” the sequence each user gets may not be quite as randomly generated as the marketing has implied.  

Having collated the order lists for myself, some colleagues and friends, and a wide selection of Twitter and TikTok users who have shared their Netflix-dictated random order, almost every one of these report being served “Yellow” and “Green” first and second, sometimes swapped; followed by the trio of “Blue”/”Orange”/”Violet” in any order, and then “Red”/”Pink”/”White”, always in that exact sequence. (A couple have reported being served “Red”, “Violet”, or another episode first, though I haven’t seen this confirmed in any screenshots.) I also ran a brief and highly unscientific Twitter poll, and nearly 80 percent of respondents had either “Yellow” or “Green” as their starter.

Admittedly, this is a small and non-scientific sample size — I tabulated 15 full orders and half a dozen partial ones, as well as sighting dozens more. But Netflix’s marketing material boasts that there are over 5000 possible variations, yet four of the 15 full lists I could find were identical to one another, and literally all of them end on the same sequence of three.

OK, some super rough numbers from someone who can’t do long division in her head: Netflix has 223 million or so subscribers, so if each permutation were evenly distributed amongst them, each unique variation would be delivered to about 44,000 people. If you exclude any that don’t end in “White” from the 5040 possible random orders, you’re left with 720 unique orders, each of which would be served to about 309,000 users. So what I’m really asking is: How likely is it that people being served the optimised orders are significantly more likely to share the order they were given?

The show’s settings on the Netflix backend allow for “White” to always be the final episode in the sequence, so it’s entirely possible they’d also put a thumb on the scale, so to speak, nudging the “random” orders into something that’s better as an overall watching experience. Mashable reached out to Netflix about this, but we received no response.

Nope, your “unique” Kaleidoscope order just isn’t that random.

It would appear Netflix has actually randomised the story within these smaller blocks to provide an overall better-on-average experience for most viewers, especially those going in cold. The official synopsis even backs this up: 

Some members may start with certain episodes (like episodes “Yellow or “Green”), then move deeper into their own personal viewing order with varying episodes (“Blue” or “Violet” or “Orange,” followed by “Red” or “Pink”) until the epic “White: The Heist” story finale.

Netflix, of course, has also said that there is no wrong order:

And folks are having loads of fun working out the “best” — or even just the most chaotic — viewing orders and discussing how it affects their experience of the story. Some began with the further flashback, “Violet”, and found that deep background made for a richer story; others kicked off with “Red”, the morning after the heist, and enjoyed zipping back and forth in the timeline. Netflix and the creators certainly will have been hoping that people aware of the gimmick would take more agency over their viewing experience, have fun picking their own order, and (perhaps most importantly) spark online chatter (and unnecessarily in-depth articles) about the gimmick itself.

But if you truly want to test the experimental structure, take your cue from the intrepid viewers who’ve skipped the standard-ish Netflix order and used online generators to create their own, definitely random viewing orders.

I personally have been watching in reverse chronological order, arguably the most perverse and almost definitely the most emotionally masochistic option, and have found it to be a fascinating exercise, at the very least. But I’m still saving “White” for last. Any true fan of the heist genre knows good luck is great, but there’s no substitute for a well-executed plan.

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