BEVERLY HILLS

Showtime's Emmy-winning drama, "Homeland," returns for its third season on Sept. 29, but don't expect to see any trace of Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis).

No, he hasn't been killed off. Not yet, at least. He'll just be missing from at least the first two episodes as "Homeland" concentrates on the home front.

"Brody is on the lam. He's disappeared into a tunnel system ...," Lewis told reporters Monday at the TV critics press tour. "He's the most wanted criminal in the world at this point."

To have Brody AWOL was "strictly a function of the story," according to executive producer Alex Gansa, who refused to say when, exactly, viewers will see him again.

The early focus instead will be on Washington, where CIA analyst Carrie Mathison is again in a fraglie state and off her meds. When Season 2 ended, she had helped Brody flee the country after he became a suspect in a deadly explosion that rocked CIA headquarters.

"She is always sitting on her own personal ticking bomb. It's just an impossible dilemma," Danes said. "She's not great on the meds and even worse off of them. It's pretty bleak in the beginning."

Meanwhile, Saul (Mandy Patinkin) is acting head of the CIA, a position that causes him a lot of anxiety.

"One of the themes of Season 3 is the cost of being an intelligence officer," said Gansa. "As a result of the attack last year, the CIA is itself on trial. If the CIA can't protect itself, how can it be expected to protect the country? Saul is confronted with that very question."

"Homeland" is coming off a season in which it was the target of critical disdain for the first time, as many viewers became fixated on what they saw as implausibilities and holes in the plot. Still, it earned 11 Emmy nominations, including nods for best drama, actor (Lewis) and actress (Danes).

Gansa said he and his writers didn't allow the criticism to impact their approach to Season 3.

"Obviously, we wished the backlash had never happened," he said. "But the show built its audience through Season 2 and our 11 Emmy nominations are a nice comeback."