– Claire Danes and Damian Lewis will arrive at the Emmy Awards on Sunday night as reigning champs. But their drama "Homeland," which returns next Sunday, seems unlikely to make such a splash this time around after a shaky sophomore season. The lust affair between Lewis' Nicholas Brody and Danes' Carrie Mathison came to seem as improbable as a tryst between Prince Harry and Snooki.

"I wish the backlash had never happened, but it really didn't influence the way we rolled out Season 2 or Season 3," said executive producer Alex Gansa. "Our 11 Emmy nominations this year are a nice comeback."

The Showtime series may have an impressive tally — "American Horror Story" leads the pack with 17 nods — but as it moves forward it also has a fundamental problem: a missing leading man.

Brody, who is believed to have detonated a bomb that wiped out much of the CIA, is nowhere to be found in the first two episodes, a move that makes sense for the story but could be problematic for fans eager to find out what happens to him.

Lewis hopes the anticipation will lend itself to great drama.

"He's arguably the most wanted criminal in the world at this point, so he has to lie low," Lewis said. "I think when the audience does see him, they'll be interested to see what state he'll be in. Is he swimming around a yacht off the Cote d'Azur surrounded by a bevy of Russian beauties, which was my pitch, or is he hidden away, or lost?"

Just because Brody is absent from the early action doesn't mean his family is out of the picture. One of the primary early stories revolves around his doting child Dana, who, after her father's disappearance, has attempted suicide. It's a complex, underplayed performance by 19-year-old Morgan Saylor that may have people talking come next year's Emmys.

"Almost all of the writers on the staff have kids who are exactly that age," Gansa said. "So we bring that into the room all the time. And I think the reason why we cast Morgan is because she clearly represented that in her audition in a way that was so much more credible than, you know, your usual teenage eye-rolling character. She just felt real to us."

The heart of the show, however, remains Danes' intelligence officer, whose guilt trip over the explosion has convinced her to stop treating her bipolar disorder.

"Carrie is always sitting on her own personal ticking bomb," Danes said. "She's just in an impossible dilemma because she is not great on the meds, and she's even worse off of them. It's always a little precarious."

By the second episode, Carrie is institutionalized, a move that gives Danes a chance to curse, scream and stomp her feet, antics that may remind viewers more of Anne Hathaway's bug-eyed sendup of her on "Saturday Night Live" than the fact that she's an Emmy winner.

Danes is good-natured about the parody, revealing that Hathaway even sent her a bouquet of flowers before the skit aired.

"I mean, it's all in good fun," she said. "Actually, to be honest, I was very flattered, really, genuinely. To be parodied on 'SNL' means we are relevant. We're in the zeitgeist."